Biden has placed the blame for the resurgence of the virus squarely on the shoulders of those who aren’t vaccinated. “The pandemic we have now is a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Biden said during a visit Wednesday to a truck plant in Pennsylvania, where he urged the unvaccinated to “please, please, please, please” get a shot. A day earlier, he mused that “if those other 100 million people got vaccinated, we’d be in a very different world.”
An individual familiar with the president’s plans, who spoke on condition of anonymity to confirm details that had yet to be announced publicly, emphasized that the new guidance is not a vaccine mandate for federal employees and that those who decide not to get vaccinated aren’t at risk of being fired. The new policy amounts to a recognition by the Biden administration that the government — the nation’s biggest employer — must do more to boost sluggish vaccination rates, as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations rebound, driven largely by the spread of the more infectious delta variant. The administration on Wednesday was still reviewing details of the expected guidance, and significant questions about its implementation and scope remained. It was unclear whether the president would issue similar requirements for the military and how federal contractors would be affected. The administration is announcing the move now with the hope that it will give agencies enough time to craft their own guidelines and plans for implementation before workers return fully to the office.
The announcement is expected to come as part of broader remarks Thursday that Biden promised would outline “the next steps in our effort to get more Americans vaccinated.” The individual said the conversation around the new vaccine guidance had been in the works for some time and was intended to provide an example for private companies to follow as they get ready for workers to return this fall. But it’s just the latest policy shift from the administration during a week of new coronavirus mitigation efforts, as the White House grapples with a surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations nationwide driven by the delta variant and breakthrough infections among vaccinated Americans.
On Monday, the Department of Veterans Affairs became the first federal agency to require vaccinations, for its health workers. And on Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reversed its masking guidelines and said that all Americans living in areas with substantial or high coronavirus transmission rates should wear masks indoors, regardless of their vaccination status. With the latest CDC data showing that Washington, D.C., is facing substantial rates of transmission, by Wednesday reporters and staff were again masking up at the White House. The new guidance on vaccinations for federal employees reflects the reality that Biden’s national vaccination drive has fallen short of his goals. Public opinion seems to have hardened around the vaccines, with a recent poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finding that among American adults who have not yet received a vaccine, 35% say they probably will not, and 45% say they definitely will not.
“Doing more of the same just will not work,” said Dr. Leana Wen, a former Baltimore health commissioner who’s become a leading public health commentator on the pandemic. “This is the logical next step,” Wen continued. “If you want to be going in to work and interacting with other people, then you have to be sure you wouldn’t have COVID, and you can do that either by getting vaccinated or by testing.” About 60% of American adults have been fully vaccinated. Biden missed his goal of having 70% of adults get at least one shot by July 4. The latest figure is 69.3%.
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