Biden pushes vaccine mandates overlaying 100 million U.S. employees

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U.S. President Joe Biden announces Jan.

Brendan Smialowski | AFP | Getty Images

President Joe Biden on Thursday outlined a broad-based plan to increase Covid-19 vaccination rates in the US as the number of cases stagnated on a plateau, urging private employers to immunize their workforce and provide vaccinations for federal employees, contractors and employees of health care institutions that receive Medicare or Medicaid funding.

The country reports an average of 151,500 new cases per day, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, hovering around levels recorded at the end of January. The country is reporting an average of around 1,500 Covid deaths per day, according to Hopkins’ data, which was in line with March figures when the US was behind its winter surge.

In a speech Thursday evening, Biden discussed a six-part plan that aims to get more people vaccinated, allow schools to reopen safely, increase testing, improve patient care and fuel economic recovery.

“Although we have an unprecedented and successful vaccination program, despite the fact that free vaccines have been available in 80,000 different locations for nearly five months, we still have nearly 80 million Americans who haven’t got the vaccine,” Biden said.

Biden said he was no longer patient with unvaccinated Americans.

“What is there to wait? What else do you need to see? We made vaccinations free, safe and convenient. The vaccine has FDA approval, and over 200 million Americans have had at least one vaccination, ”said Biden. “We have been patient, but our patience is deteriorating and the refusal has cost us all.

The president announced a new requirement for federal employees to receive a Covid vaccine without the option of regular testing.

The executive order extends to contractors who work with the US government and affects a total of 2.1 million employees. Biden had previously directed all federal employees to prove their coronavirus vaccination status or to undergo a number of strict security protocols.

Biden also said he is calling on the U.S. Department of Labor to enact a rule requiring employers with more than 100 employees to require vaccines or testing, officials said. The Department of Labor did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

Major U.S. companies have increasingly mandated vaccines or announced penalties for workers who are not vaccinated since the rise in Covid cases this summer. United Airlines will require all workers to be vaccinated this fall, while Americans and Alaska employees who are not vaccinated warned they could lose their wage protection.

He also announced that healthcare facilities receiving Medicare and Medicaid funding must be fully vaccinated.

In total, the new vaccination regulations will cover about 100 million workers, affecting two-thirds of U.S. workers, Biden said.

As part of the multi-pronged plan to fight Covid, the government is increasing the average weekly pace of deliveries of free monoclonal antibody treatments for Covid by 50%, Biden said. More than 800,000 cans were shipped in July and August, a senior administration said in a call on Thursday.

The Transportation Security Administration also plans to double fines for travelers who refuse to follow a state mask mandate for air travel, a senior Biden administration official said. The fines will soon start at $ 500 and go up to $ 3,000 for repeat offenders.

Biden also urged all schools to set up regular testing for under-vaccinated students, faculty and staff if Covid spreads in a community.

The Department of Education will provide additional funding to help local school districts replenish salaries and other funds if they have been withheld by heads of state for implementing Covid security measures, according to a senior administrative official.

The plan also provides for $ 2 billion to be allocated to the production of 280 million rapid Covid tests and at home under the Defense Production Act. The plan expands the federal government’s free Covid test program to 10,000 pharmacies nationwide and provides community health centers and food banks with 25 million free rapid tests for distribution.

Private companies will also be handing out discounted tests: Walmart, Amazon and Kroger will start selling Covid tests at home for the next three months, “at their own expense,” senior administration officials said. The discount is intended to make the tests 35% cheaper for consumers.

“Together, these steps will ensure that every American, regardless of income, has access to free and convenient testing,” officials said.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday the plan will involve both the public and private sectors to “keep the pandemic under control”.

Despite the government’s nationwide push for Covid vaccinations, just over 176 million Americans, or 53.3% of the total population, are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The government has already announced its plans to give Covid vaccine booster shots later this month to those eight months after their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. The Senior Medical Advisor to the White House, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday that the US will likely begin widely distributing third Pfizer shots by the week of September 20, but the rollout for Moderna could be delayed.

The Biden government has also encouraged private companies to implement vaccine mandates, despite CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told CNBC that federal officials would not give a nationwide mandate.

– CNBC’s Amanda Macias, Leslie Josephs and Nate Rattner contributed to this report.

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