Tue | Sep 28, 2021

Biden orders tough new vaccination rules for federal workers

Published:Thursday | July 29, 2021 | 4:32 PM
President Joe Biden speaks about COVID-19 vaccine requirements for federal workers in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, July 29, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Thursday announced sweeping new pandemic requirements for millions of federal workers as he denounced an “American tragedy” of rising-yet-preventable deaths among unvaccinated US employees and others.

Federal workers will be required to attest they've been vaccinated against the coronavirus or else face mandatory masking, weekly testing, distancing and other new rules.

The newly strict guidelines are aimed at boosting sluggish vaccination rates among the four million of Americans who draw federal pay cheques and to set an example for private employers around the country.

“Right now, too many people are dying or watching someone they love die and say if 'I'd just got the vaccine',” Biden said in a sombre address from the East Room of the White House.

“This is an American tragedy. People are dying who don't have to die.”

The administration encouraged businesses to follow its lead on incentivising vaccinations by imposing burdens on the unvaccinated.

Rather than mandating that federal workers receive vaccines, the plan will make life more difficult for those who are unvaccinated to encourage them to comply.

Biden also directed the Defense Department to look into adding the COVID-19 shot to its list of required vaccinations for members of the military.

And he has directed his team to take steps to apply similar requirements to all federal contractors.

Biden also urged state and local governments to use funds provided by the coronavirus relief package to incentivise vaccinations by offering $100 to individuals who get the shots.

And he announced that small- and medium-sized businesses will receive reimbursements if they offer employees time off to get family members vaccinated.

Over and over, the president repeated that the vast majority of those falling ill and dying in this new wave of the delta virus are unvaccinated, putting others at risk and endangering the nation's fragile economic recovery and return to normalcy.

“It's an American blessing that we have vaccines for each and every American. It's such a shame to squander that blessing,” said Biden.

Children under 12 are not yet eligible to receive the vaccine, though Biden repeated his demand that schools fully open this fall.

He also said that public health officials do not yet believe Americans need a booster vaccine despite the highly contagious delta variant fuelling the surge.

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