Faced with a late-summer surge in Covid-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths, President Joe Biden announced on Thursday a new plan to combat the virus.
Among other initiatives, the six-point plan requires all federal employees to be vaccinated. Additionally, more than 17 million health care workers who deal with Medicare and Medicaid patients will have to get vaccines, and the U.S. Department of Labor will require all private employers with more than 100 employees to institute vaccine mandates or test unvaccinated workers on a weekly basis – a move that could affect 80 million workers.
All told, the rules cover about 100 million employees, or two-thirds of the U.S. workforce.
In addition to the workplace rules, the plan calls for a national vaccine booster shot program to begin as soon as September 20; more funding for schools to vaccinate and test staff and students; a push to increase rapid and at-home testing and enhance masking requirements; more money for small businesses; and increased support for antibody treatments and hospitals.
A focus on vaccines: The White House says it does not have the authority to create a national mandate, but it’s encouraging schools and businesses to require vaccines as broadly as possible. “Our overarching objective here is to reduce the number of unvaccinated Americans," White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. “We want to reduce that number, decrease hospitalizations and deaths and allow our children to go to school safely.”
Lawrence O. Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University, told The New York Times Thursday that the latest federal effort is unprecedented. “Never before have we mandated a vaccine throughout the federal work force, the National Guard, among government contractors and also using the bully pulpit to try to influence businesses and universities and cities and states to do the same,” Gostin said.
The bottom line: The nation has tried the carrots — offering lotteries, cash and other goodies to encourage vaccination. Now Biden is turning to the stick, using it where he can.