Joe Biden announced a series of new measures Thursday meant to boost vaccination rates in the federal workforce and around the country – as the Delta variant boosts hospitalizations and threatens the nation’s economic recovery.
‘You want to know how we put this virus behind us? I’ll tell you how: We get more people vaccinated,’ Biden said in remarks at the White House Thursday.
He called for Americans to get their shots, for those who got a first dose to follow up, and for people to follow evolving government mask guidance.
‘With incentives and mandates, we can make a huge difference and save a lot of lives,’ Biden said about 19 minutes into his speech – using a term that vaccine opponents have turned into a rallying cry.
Asked about doing even more to get people vaccinated through mandates by states, localities, and businesses, Biden said he wants them to ‘continue to move in that direction.’
He also didn’t rule out the idea of a national mandate, though he wouldn’t vouch for the authority. ‘It’s still a question of whether the federal government can mandate the whole country. I don’t know that yet.’
Biden termed the state-of-play a ‘pandemic of the unvaccinated,’ a term his administration defended earlier Thursday.
‘In fact virtually all hospitalizations and deaths are among the unvaccinated,’ Biden said.
‘This is an American tragedy. People are dying and will die, who don’t have to die,’ he said.
He called for Americans to ‘finish the job,’ with ‘science, with facts, with the truth.’
Biden made a point of calling out a pair of elected Republicans who encouraged people to get shots: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey. He even pointed to Fox news commentators who promoted the vaccines (although he pointed to others on the network he said had ‘belittled it).
‘This is not about Red states and Blue states. It’s literally about life and death,’ Biden said.
He also spoke to Americans who were ‘anxious or even angry,’ but urged them to look back at how the nation climbed out of the worst days of the pandemic.
Speaking directly to the camera in the East Room of the White House after a press secretary dodged substantive questions on his plans, Biden pleaded with Americans to follow through, and spoke to the high stakes.
‘Right now, too many people are dying or watching too many people they love dying, saying: If I just got vaccinated.’
He made a special plea to parents of adolescents, among gains among the cohort.
‘Parents: get your children vaccinated. You do it for so many other things right now,’ he urged. He said reopening schools should have pop-up vaccination clinics outside.
With a substantial contingent of Americans still refusing to get vaccinated despite the vast majority of covid hospitalizations being for those who have avoided the vaccine, Biden is requiring federal workers to either attest to having gotten a jab or submit to testing.
He is formally efforts by states and localities to essentially pay people to get the free, potentially life-saving shot with $100 prizes. And he will order the Pentagon to ‘look into how and when’ they will add COVID-19 they will add it to the list of required vaccines for the military.
‘We are now faced with a much more transmissible strain of this virus—the Delta variant. The good news is that we are prepared for this. We know how to stop it: get more people vaccinated,’ the White House said in a fact sheet on the latest approach.
The policy on federal workers will also apply to federal contractors.
‘Anyone who does not attest to being fully vaccinated will be required to wear a mask on the job no matter their geographic location, physically distance from all other employees and visitors, comply with a weekly or twice weekly screening testing requirement, and be subject to restrictions on official travel,’ according to the White House.
The language on the military implies less than a direct order – but also gives a clear indication of what the Commander in Chief.
‘Today, the President will announce that he is directing the Department of Defense to look into how and when they will add COVID-19 vaccination to the list of required vaccinations for members of the military. This is particularly important because our troops serve in places throughout the world— many where vaccination rates are low and disease is prevalent.’
Biden also will ‘call on’ states and localities to pay people to get the shot, as a way to boost rates.
‘Today, the President will call on states, territories, and local governments to do more to incentivize vaccination, including offering $100 to those who get vaccinated. Throughout America’s vaccination efforts, we have seen that financial incentives serve as a motivating factor for some people to get vaccinated.’ The fact sheet notes that grocery chain Kroger saw vaccine rates spike among staff when it offered $100 checks, with rates jumping from 50 per cent to 75 per cent.
The president also called on people to embrace the latest CDC guidance on mask-wearing.
‘I hope all Americans who live in areas with substantial or high case rates will follow the mask guidance that’s being laid down by the CDC. I certainly will and I have because this is one of those areas in Washington,’ he said.
Biden also said there should be ‘paid leave to get the shot,’ and said the feds would reimburse small and medium sized businesses who provide it.
‘Do it now, please,’ he urged employers.
Biden is launching a tough new approach on the COVID pandemic with a speech where he plans to pitch the the vaccine requirement for federal workers and call on the unvaccinated to do their part to stem the pandemic.
Biden, in a speech at the White House, will announce a directive requiring the federal government’s 2 million work force to show they’ve been vaccinated or submit to weekly testing.
It won’t be a mandate, which the White House has said it won’t issue, but it will be a first step in requiring vaccinations at a small level.
Biden has resisted any talk of a vaccine requirements for the nation but he does control the federal government, one of the largest employers in the nation.
The White House is holding the details of Biden’s Thursday address close to its chest as it finalizes the directive amid rising COVID cases, tied to the highly contagious Delta variant.
White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre would only tell reporters Wednesday that the administration is considering options for federal employees like ‘confirming vaccination status or abiding by stringent COVID-19 protocols, like mandatory mask wearing.’
The directive will be delivered in sterner terms than Biden has used previously, a White House official told CNN of the president’s speech, signaling Biden’s growing impatience with those who refuse to get vaccinated.
The goal is to make being unvaccinated such a burden that those who haven’t received their vaccine will have little choice other than to get one.
Some vaccine requirements have started.
The Department of Veterans Affairs on Monday ordered the majority of its health-care workers to get vaccinated.
The Defense Department will be exempt from Thursday’s announcement as it cannot legally require troops to receive the vaccine until the Food and Drug Administration issues its final approval for the drugs. The COVID vaccines are now approved under an emergency use authorization.
Additionally, the White House is backing new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on mask requirements. The CDC urged fully vaccinated individuals ‘wear a mask in public indoor settings if they are in an area of substantial or high transmission.’
The agency said that 63.4 percent of counties now had levels high enough to warrant indoor masking.
The White House and several other government agencies – including the Pentagon and State Department – have issued notices requiring masks indoors.