Biden Presents Stringent New Rules to Clamp Down on the Unvaccinated
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden announced tough vaccine rules Thursday that require all healthcare workers, federal employees and contractors to be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.
In addition, millions of workers at companies with 100 or more employees must get vaccinated or face weekly testing.
Federal employees or contractors who refuse the vaccines could lose their jobs. Large employers who fail to comply with the vaccination rules could be fined as much as $14,000 per violation.
The strict new rules are the Biden administration’s latest effort to halt a surge in the delta variant of coronavirus that is reaching toward record infection rates in the United States.
“We have a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Biden said during a nationally televised presentation.
Although three-quarters of Americans at least 12 years old have received at least one vaccination injection, another 80 million eligible Americans remain unvaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Other parts of the Biden plan seek to ensure 100% of the nation’s teachers get vaccinated, up from the current 90%.
He also pledged increases in free or low-cost COVID-19 rapid tests and monoclonal antibody treatments for persons already infected.
“We have the tools, now we just have to finish the job,” Biden said.
The rules would affect millions of American workers in coming weeks. The “emergency temporary standard” requiring employee vaccination would be enforced by the U.S. Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
The rule would allow private employers to go further in their requirements, such as making vaccination a condition of continued employment.
Biden’s presentation raised immediate concern among legal commentators. Some described Biden’s stepped-up pandemic plan as an invasion of privacy while others said he was acting within his rights to protect the American public.
The president seemed to anticipate resistance from governors who say their state residents should have more discretion on whether to get vaccinated or to wear masks. Examples include Republican governors Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas.
They have banned mandates by school administrators and teachers that would require their students to wear masks in class. The bans could make teachers lose their jobs or have their pay withheld.
“I’ll use my power as president to get them out of the way,” Biden said about non-compliant governors.
If they withhold teacher pay for requiring masks, “We will have that pay restored by the federal government 100%. I promise you, I will have your back,” Biden said.
At a press conference before Biden’s speech, White House press spokeswoman Jen Psaki hinted that more efforts against the pandemic could be coming soon.
“This is the next in that series of steps,” Psaki said about Biden’s revised plan.
She added, “This is an evolving virus, a smart virus that has produced additional variants.”
Additional provisions in the plan would require about 300,000 educators in the federal Head Start program for preschool education to be vaccinated.
Retailers Amazon, Walmart and Kroger must sell at-home rapid coronavirus tests at cost for the next three months. The tests, along with vaccines, would be distributed more widely among the nation’s pharmacies.
Fines for airline passengers who refuse to wear masks would be doubled.
“If you break the rules, be prepared to pay,” Biden said.
MSNBC medical contributor Kavita Patel said after the speech, “This will save lives.”
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