It is a major shift in approach that reflects the White House’s growing concern about the spread of the highly-contagious Delta variant.,
Biden plans to announce all civilian federal workers must be vaccinated or face testing.
President Biden on Tuesday.Credit…T.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times
July 28, 2021, 1:41 p.m. ET
President Biden will formally announce on Thursday that all civilian federal employees must be vaccinated against the coronavirus or be forced to submit to regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements and restrictions on most travel, two people familiar with the president’s plans said Wednesday.
White House officials said the administration is still reviewing the specific details of the policy which the president is expected to announce in a speech from the White House. In a statement on Tuesday, Mr. Biden said his remarks will reveal “the next steps in our effort to get more Americans vaccinated.”
The president’s move is expected to be similar to an announcement on Wednesday by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York, who said that tens of thousands of state employees would be required to show proof of vaccination or submit to weekly testing. Mr. Cuomo also said that “patient-facing” health care workers at state-run hospitals would be required to be vaccinated as a condition of their employment.
The federal plan will not force employees to get a shot unless they work directly with patients at hospitals run by the Veterans Affairs department. But public health officials are hoping that the prospect of extra burdens for the unvaccinated will help convince more people to get one.
Mr. Biden’s decision to embrace stricter vaccine rules for federal workers follows days of deliberations and reflects growing concern among top federal health officials about the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant, which poses a special threat to children, older Americans and those with weakened immune systems, including cancer patients. But that concern, officials said, must be balanced against the threat of a backlash that could drive opposition to vaccination. Recent research has shown vaccines remain effective against the worst outcomes of Covid-19, including those involving the Delta variant.
Asked by a reporter on Tuesday whether he would require vaccinations for the nation’s nearly two million federal workers, Mr. Biden was blunt.
“That’s under consideration right now,” he said, adding, “But if you’re not vaccinated, you’re not nearly as smart as I thought you were.”
Mr. Biden did not provide details, but administration officials said the idea being debated was similar to a mandate New York City announced on Monday, which would require all 300,000 city employees to be vaccinated or submit to weekly testing.
It was not clear if Mr. Biden was planning something similar for the military, although he does have the authority to do so. Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III has said he would not be comfortable with a mandate until the Food and Drug Administration fully approved the vaccine.
The officials said that there was no consideration of simply firing federal employees who refuse to get vaccinated, but that the government could add burdens or restrictions — like extensive testing or a ban on all but essential travel — for those who do not willingly get the protections. They said there was evidence that making life inconvenient for those who refuse the vaccine works reasonably well to increase inoculation rates.
The move underscores the need by Mr. Biden and his top health advisers to grapple with the limits of his legal authority when it comes to forcing Americans to get vaccinated. Aides say the president has no power to simply order all Americans to get a shot, and he cannot require children to be vaccinated as a condition of attending school; that is a function reserved for state or local governments.