Biden Orders Large Employers to Require Vaccination or COVID Testing

President Biden announced a multi-prong strategy to combat the Delta surge gripping the nation that rests largely on increasing the vaccination rate among the labor force. The most controversial measure is aimed at private employers of 100+ workers.

September 13, 2021, 10:00 AM PDT

By Irvin Dawid


A sign on a door says proof of vaccine is required to enter.

rblmfr / Shutterstock

"The sweeping actions, which the president announced in a White House speech, are the most expansive he has taken to control the pandemic and will affect almost every aspect of society," report Katie Rogers and Sheryl Gay Stolberg for The New York Times on Sept. 9. "They also reflect Mr. Biden’s deep frustration with the roughly 80 million Americans who are eligible for shots but have not gotten them."

Mr. Biden is acting through a combination of executive orders and new federal rules. Under his plan, private-sector businesses that have 100 or more employees will have to require vaccination, or mandatory weekly testing, after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration [OSHA] drafts a rule.

The rule would cover roughly 80 million workers. "OSHA has the authority to quickly issue a rule, known as an emergency temporary standard, if it can show that workers are exposed to a grave danger and that the rule is necessary to address that danger," reports the Times' Lauren Hirsch

Mandatory vaccinations

"In an expansion of his earlier push to vaccinate the federal work force, Mr. Biden signed an executive order requiring all executive branch employees and federal contractors to be vaccinated, with no exception to test out of the requirement," reports The Times' Aishvarya Kavi. The order applies to about four million workers, including the military.

In addition, about 17 million health care workers at institutions that accept Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement will be subject to mandatory vaccination without the testing option.

Reaction

"Although epidemiologists have spent months stressing an urgent need to increase vaccination rates as the highly contagious Delta variant took hold in the United States, Mr. Biden’s plan was unveiled in a deeply polarized environment and even experts seemed split on how effective it will be," reported the Times' Lauren McCarthy.

Dr. Georges C. Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said the actions might be “too little, too late,” and warned that Americans opposed to vaccination might dig in and bristle at being told what to do. 

However, the association's press release praised the plan, saying it would "boost vaccination rates."

Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb agreed with Benjamin in response to a question posed by Margaret Brennan on Face the Nation on Sunday: "Practically speaking, does this mandate make sense?

"I think the downside of this mandate in terms of hardening positions and taking something that was subtly political and making it overtly political could outweigh any of the benefits that we hope to achieve," responed Gottlieb.

"A lot of businesses that might have mandated vaccines are now going to sit on their hands and say, I'm going to wait for OSHA to tell me just how to do it and give me more political cover. So, in the near term, you could actually discourage some vaccination."

"By Friday morning, 19 of the country's 27 Republican governors had condemned President Biden's mandate plan, calling it a federal overreach," stated Chuck Todd, host of NBC's Meet The Press on Sept. 12. Asa Hutchinson, the Republican governor of Arkansas, told Todd:

"And we're all together in trying to get an increased level of vaccination out in the population. The problem is that I'm trying to overcome resistance. But the president's actions in a mandate hardens the resistance."

Litigation anticipated

"Several Republican governors vowed to go to court to challenge the constitutionality of the rules that affect two-thirds of American workers, setting the stage for one of the nation’s most consequential legal battles over public health since Republicans sued to overturn the Affordable Care Act," reported the Times on Sunday.

Not by vaccination alone

The last word goes to David Michaels, an epidemiologist who ran OSHA from 2009 to 2017 and served on the Biden administration's COVID transition task force. He appeared on the PBS NewsHour on Friday.

William Brangham of the NewsHour asked if Biden's plan, known as Path out of the Pandemic,  "will serve the purpose the president intends it to serve, which is, will this get more people vaccinated? Will this save people's lives?"

"Yes, it's the right first step. But it's not adequate," responded Michaels.

"There's really compelling evidence that vaccination alone is not going to stop this pandemic. It's not going to stop spread. We know about — we know that. What we need to do is apply the basic commonsense public health precautions, masking in indoor settings, improved ventilation and filtration to make sure the air is clean, that it doesn't have viruses in it.

"And I think this is a lost opportunity. While we're telling employers to make sure their workers are vaccinated, we should also be saying, make sure people wear masks in situations where it's important to do that, where people are congregating, whether it's restaurants, at gymnasiums, warehouses. And make sure you have done everything you can to make sure clean air is coming in."

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