Joe Biden signaled the end of his patience for vaccine-hesitant Americans when he announced a sweeping mandate that will affect around 100 million workers
Until this point in the pandemic, President Joe Biden has been reluctant to enact COVID-19 vaccine mandates, instead relying on individual Americans to fulfill their duty to protect themselves and one another. But as the delta variant has ravaged states with lower vaccination rates and fueled a peak in cases higher than any point other than last winter’s devastating surge, it’s becoming clear that appealing to Americans’ sensibilities is not working. And so, in a speech from the White House on Thursday, Biden announced a series of sweeping vaccine mandates and rules that will affect around 100 million workers across the nation.
“We’ve been patient,” Biden said in a sharp part of his speech directed at unvaccinated Americans. “But our patience is wearing thin. And your refusal has cost all of us.”
Using the full force of his presidential authority, Biden announced that healthcare workers, federal contractors, and the vast majority of federal employees will now be required to get the vaccine or face disciplinary measures. Vaccines were previously mandated for federal workers, but with the option of weekly testing for those who chose not the get vaccinated. That option will now go away.
Biden also said that all businesses with more than 100 employees must now mandate that their employees either receive the vaccine, or get tested weekly. Biden directed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to draft a rule to enforce Biden’s mandate, showing that the administration plans to treat vaccination as a workplace safety issue. In his speech, Biden promised to “protect vaccinated workers from the unvaccinated.”
“We can and we will turn the tide on Covid-19,” he added.
The new mandates come under a combination of executive orders and federal rules. OSHA will require and enforce vaccination for employees at private companies, while hospitals and other healthcare organizations will have to require their employees to get the vaccine in order to meet new requirements for accepting Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement.
Though Biden’s sweeping new rules are likely to face legal challenges, experts are already saying there’s precedent for the rules to stay in place. Private businesses have always been required to comply with evidence-based federal health and safety standards, and OSHA has instituted and enforced other safety rules related to the pandemic, like compelling businesses to provide their workers with PPE.
As Lawrence O. Gostin, a Georgetown University law professor who specializes in public health, told the New York Times, “The president’s plan is bold, audacious and unprecedented. But I do think it’s entirely lawful. He’s on extremely strong legal ground.”