Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate first tested with federal employees
President Joe Biden is pushing forward a massive plan to force millions of private sector workers to get vaccinated by early next year. But first, he needs to make sure his own federal government workers get vaccinated.
About 4 million federal workers are to be vaccinated by November 22 under the presidential decree. Some employees, like those in the White House, are almost all vaccinated. But rates are lower in other federal agencies, especially those related to law enforcement and intelligence, according to agencies and union leaders. And some resistant workers are digging in, suing and protesting what they say is unfair excess on the part of the White House.
The upcoming deadline is Biden’s first test of pressure to get people to get vaccinated. Beyond the federal worker rule, another mandate will take effect in January targeting about 84 million private sector workers, according to guidelines released last week.
A Louisiana federal appeals court on Saturday temporarily suspended the vaccine requirement for companies with 100 or more workers. The administration says it believes the requirement will stand up to legal challenges in part because its safety regulations prevail over state laws.
“The president and administration wouldn’t have put these requirements in place if they didn’t think they were appropriate and necessary,” Surgeon General Vivek Murthy told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “And the administration is certainly ready to defend them.”
If the warrants are successful, they could make the most serious dent in new coronavirus cases since the vaccine first became available, especially with news last week that children aged 5 to 11 can be vaccinated, making an additional 64 million people eligible. But with two weeks before the federal workers deadline, some union leaders representing employees say it’s increasingly difficult to convince the unvaccinated to change their mind.
“I got the vaccine in February, it was my own choice and I thought it would stop the virus,” said Corey Trammel, Bureau of Prisons correctional officer and president of a local union in Louisiana. ” But this is not the case. And now I have people resigning because they are fed up with the government doing too much, they don’t want to get shot. People just don’t trust the government, and they just don’t trust this vaccine. “
The vaccines have been proven to be safe, backed by clinical trials and independent reviews that show them to be extremely effective in preventing serious illness and death from COVID-19. More than 222 million Americans have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and more than 193 million are fully immunized. More than half of the world’s population has also received an injection.
Scientists have been battling anxiety over the vaccine since it was first approved; an AP-NORC poll earlier this year found that a third of adults in the United States were skeptical, despite assurances that the vaccine was safe and effective and few cases of serious side effects. About 70% of American adults are fully immunized, and 80% have received at least one dose of a vaccine.
Vaccinations have proceeded at uneven rates across the federal government.
Officials in health and human services, the United States Food and Drug Administration, and housing and urban development said they were working on vaccinating their employees but did not yet have numbers.
By the end of October, several intelligence agencies had at least 20% of their workforce unvaccinated, said U.S. Representative Chris Stewart, a Republican from Utah on the House Intelligence Committee.
The president of the Federal Association of Law Enforcement Officials, Larry Cosme, said there were about 31,000 members from 65 federal law enforcement agencies in the association and he estimated that 60% of them had been vaccinated.
Homeland Security, a giant government department with more than 240,000 employees, was about 64% fully vaccinated at the end of last month. US Customs and Border Protection have received at least 6,000 requests for medical or religious exemptions, according to the union that represents border patrol agents.
Federal agencies are warning employees of the upcoming term, offering time off to get vaccinated and encouraging workers to comply. But they won’t be fired if they don’t meet the November 22 deadline. They would receive “advice” and have five days to begin the vaccination process. They could then be suspended for 14 days and could potentially be terminated, but that process would take months.
Republicans argued the mandate went too far. Republicans on the House Oversight Committee sent a letter at the end of October suggesting that “the president’s authoritarian and extreme mandates undermine American freedoms, are unprecedented and may ultimately be considered illegal.”
In their letter, Representatives James Comer of Kentucky and Jody Hice of Georgia said they were concerned about a large number of government vacancies if thousands of workers refused and were made redundant. This concern was also felt by the members of the Bureau of Prisons, already understaffed.
A federal union of Florida corrections officers filed a complaint last week about the warrant, saying it was a violation of civil rights. Some prison workers say they are torn by the vaccine, they don’t want to lose their livelihoods, but they don’t want to sacrifice their personal beliefs either. Agents nearing retirement age are considering leaving rather than getting vaccinated.
A West Virginia prison worker texted a co-worker saying the worker wasn’t ready to be a guinea pig, writing, “It would be different if it wasn’t new. But he is. And I don’t want to be your experience.
The worker, describing how agonizing the decision had been, said: “I cried and vomited so much that my eyes and stomach hurt.” The worker wondered if it was wrong to strongly oppose the vaccine.
Border Patrol workers were ordered to confirm their immunization status by Tuesday, according to union president Brandon Judd. On Thursday, 49% of border patrol officers responded that they were fully vaccinated and about 7% said they were not vaccinated, Judd said.
It is not known at this stage how many will continue to refuse if they do not benefit from an exemption and risk losing their jobs as a result.
“When it comes to losing your livelihood or getting vaccinated, I think the vast majority will end up getting vaccinated,” Judd said. “We’re going to lose people. How much? I really couldn’t predict that.
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