BY KATHRYN WATSON, NANCY CORDES, ED O’KEEFE, WEIJIA JIANG AND FIN GÓMEZ
UPDATED ON: SEPTEMBER 10, 2021 / 7:15 AM / CBS NEWS
President Biden announced the most sweeping COVID-19 vaccine requirements yet on Thursday, which will affect roughly 100 million Americans. The new measures include a vaccine mandate for all federal workers and contractors, and a requirement that large companies must mandate vaccines or regular testing for employees.
“My job as president is to protect all Americans,” Mr. Biden said Thursday. “So tonight, I’m announcing that the Department of Labor is developing an emergency rule to require all employers with 100 or more employees that together employ over 80 million workers to ensure their workforces are fully vaccinated or show a negative test at least once a week.”
Mr. Biden noted that many large companies already require vaccinations. “The bottom line — we’re going to protect vaccinated workers from unvaccinated coworkers,” he said.
The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration is developing a rule requiring all employers with at least 100 employees to make sure their workforce is fully vaccinated or require unvaccinated workers to get a negative test at least once a week. OSHA will issue an Emergency Temporary Standard to introduce the vaccine requirement. Companies that fail to comply could face fines of $14,000 per violation, Mr. Biden said.
That was just one of the mandates and changes the president announced in a speech on boosting vaccinations and battling the COVID-19 pandemic. The president also announced vaccination requirements for health care providers that accept Medicare and Medicaid, for all federal employees and contractors and for the staffs of Head Start programs, Department of Defense Schools and Bureau of Indian Education-operated schools. Mr. Biden had announced in July the federal workforce would need to provide evidence that they had been vaccinated or submit to regular testing and practice social distancing measures in the workplace.
The new mandates are part of a six-pronged White House strategy to battle the COVID-19 Delta variant and boost vaccinations as cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to climb. The six pillars are: vaccinating the unvaccinated; furthering protection for the unvaccinated; keeping schools safely open; increasing testing and requiring masking; protecting economic recovery; and improving care for those with COVID-19.
The president started out his speech by saying he knows many are frustrated with the 25% of adults in the U.S. who have yet to get a single COVID-19 shot. That 25% “can do a lot of damage,” he said. He made an appeal directly to unvaccinated Americans.
“What more is there to wait for? What more do you need to see?” he said. “We’ve made vaccinations free, safe and convenient. The vaccine has FDA approval. Over 200 million Americans have gotten at least one shot. We’ve been patient. But our patience is wearing thin. And your refusal has cost all of us. So please, do the right thing.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said earlier Thursday there will be limited disability and religious exceptions to the federal employee vaccine requirement. Those who are not exempt and do not comply will be subject to disciplinary action, including possible termination, she said.
“There are limited exceptions, but yeah, the expectation is that if you want to work in the federal government or be a contractor, you need to be vaccinated, unless you are eligible for one of the exemptions,” Psaki told reporters.