In a sweeping attempt to contain surging COVID-19 cases driven by the Delta variant, President Joe Biden has imposed stringent new vaccine mandates that would force more than 100 million Americans or two-thirds of the country’s workforce to get the shots.
The president expressed his deep frustration with the 80 million eligible Americans who refuse to get vaccinated. In a press conference Thursday, Biden said: “We still have nearly 80 million Americans who have failed to get the shot. And to make matters worse, there are elected officials actively working to undermine the fight against COVID-19.”
The U.S. has fully vaccinated 53.4% of the total population as of Thursday. At least 62.7% have also received one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us,” Biden said, according to The New York Times.
As per the mandate, all employers with 100 or more workers are required to ensure that their workforce is fully vaccinated or test employees at least once a week.
Employers who refuse to observe the mandate may face a $14,000 fine per violation, a senior administration official was cited as saying by NBC News.
The vaccine rule would also apply to federal workers, which means more than 640,000 people working for the U.S. Postal Service and 300,000 educators employed under the federal Head Start programs are required to be fully vaccinated.
Over 17 million health care workers employed in facilities that receive Medicare or Medicaid funding, such as hospitals and dialysis centers, must be fully vaccinated.
“We can and we will turn the tide on COVID-19,” Biden said. He also acknowledged that the mandate would take time to have a full impact and is expecting that the mandate will receive legal challenges.
At present, the largest union on behalf of federal workers has already raised some questions regarding the mandate. The number of workers who are now vaccinated and are affected by the mandate is still unclear.
According to experts, the President has the lawful authority to enact vaccine requirements on private sectors, based on laws that mandate businesses to comply with evidence-based federal health safety standards.
OSHA, which implements workplace safety, has enforced already other pandemic-related precautions. One of which is a rule imposed in June that health care employers are required to provide protective gear and enough ventilation and guarantee social distancing.
Robert I. Field, a law professor at Drexel University states that OSHA has the right to protect workers’ safety and keeping them away from being exposed to the deadly virus by requiring vaccination.
“The president’s plan is bold, audacious, and unprecedented. But I do think it’s entirely lawful. He’s on extremely strong legal ground,” said Georgetown University law Professor Lawrence O. Gostin.
The vaccination mandates are part of the White House’s efforts to control the pandemic which started to get out of hand in July due to the discovery and development of the Delta variant.
Biden also on Thursday required vaccination for around 300, 000 educators in the federal Head Start Program in more than 200 schools that are federally managed.
He declared that he would use the Defense Production Act to boost the production of rapid testing kits and would work side by side with retailers such as Amazon and Walmart to broaden the availability of the testing kits.
According to Dr. Georges C. Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, the move might be “too little, too late.” He also cautioned that Americans who don’t want to get the vaccine might resent. The American Hospital Association was careful and warns that the move “may result in exacerbating the severe workforce shortage problems that currently exist.”
But for Dr. William Schaffner, infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University, the mandate was needed and was equated to military service during a time of war.
“To date we have relied on a volunteer army,” Dr. Schaffner said. “But particularly with the Delta variant, the enemy has been reinforced, and now a volunteer army is not sufficient. We need to institute a draft.”
Only 53% of Americans are fully vaccinated. The number of people wanting to receive the shot increased in August as the Delta variant continues to surge pushing the country to record a daily average of 150, 000 cases, a first since late January.
“When you have 75 to 80 million people who are eligible to be vaccinated, who don’t get vaccinated, you’re going to have a dynamic of continual smoldering spread of the infection,” Biden’s top medical adviser for the coronavirus pandemic, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, said in an interview, adding, “It’s very frustrating, because we have the wherewithal within our power to be able to actually suppress it.”
According to White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, aside from religious and disability exemptions, most Americans would be subjected to a 75-day grace period for receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.