The new measures come amid an increase in hospitalizations and deaths linked to Covid-19 in the United States. The vast majority of people with severe cases of Covid-19 are not vaccinated.
“It’s an American tragedy. People are dying – and will die – who don’t have to die. If you’re not vaccinated, you don’t have to die, ”Biden said in a White House address. . “Read the news. You will see stories of unvaccinated patients in hospitals, as they lie in bed dying from Covid-19, they ask ‘Doc, can I get vaccinated?’ Doctors have to say, ‘Sorry, it’s too late.’ “
Biden said every federal government employee and contractor on site will be asked to certify their vaccination status.
Employees who have not been vaccinated “will be required to wear a mask while at work, regardless of location, physical distance from all other employees and visitors, to comply with a weekly or bi-weekly screening test requirement and be subject to travel restrictions, ”the White House said ahead of Biden’s speech.
The administration on Thursday launched other efforts to encourage vaccination, including extending paid leave for employees who take time off to get vaccinated and their family members. Biden said employers would be reimbursed. The Treasury Department said Biden will also call on states, territories and local governments to do more to push for vaccinations, including offering $ 100 to Americans getting vaccinated, paid for with US bailout funding.
Finally, the president called on school districts across the country to hold at least one pop-up vaccination clinic in the coming weeks with the goal of getting more children 12 and older vaccinated.
The federal employee immunization requirement is not a mandate, officials insisted, and most federal employees who do not get vaccinated will not lose their jobs as a result, CNN previously reported.
But the move nonetheless marks a turning point in encouraging Americans to get vaccinated at their own pace and shift towards blaming unvaccinated people.
Several groups representing federal workers across government are already raising concerns about this requirement, including groups representing federal law enforcement officials, IRS managers, and members of the US Border. Patrol, among others.
Other groups, such as the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, have provided support.
The goal, assistants said, is to make not getting vaccinated so painful that those who haven’t received vaccines will have little choice but to get them. It is an approach tested by European leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron, who required either proof of vaccination or a negative test in public places. And some states, including New York, have also said government employees must either prove they’ve been vaccinated or be tested weekly.
Biden’s aides always say they don’t think he has the power to demand that all Americans get shot. But its oversight of the federal workforce, they believe, can be a powerful model for other employers considering their options for requiring vaccines.
The prevalence of the highly contagious Delta variant in the United States and the low use of the vaccine has led the federal government to take a number of measures to further mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
Earlier this week, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that everyone – including those who have been vaccinated – wear masks indoors in areas of high or high transmission of Covid-19. The agency also recommended masks for all K-12 children in schools, even those who have been vaccinated.
The Department of Veterans Affairs also recently announced that it will require frontline healthcare workers to be vaccinated within the next two months.
The latest CDC data shows that 49.4% of the total US population is fully vaccinated. And despite a previous drop in immunization rates, 389,963 people are now starting immunizations each day, based on the current seven-day average.
That’s the highest in more than three weeks, but it’s still below the pace set by millions of people who were injected every day earlier this year.
On Monday, the Justice Department determined that federal law does not prohibit public agencies and private companies from requiring Covid-19 vaccines – even though the vaccines have so far only had a clearance for emergency use.
CDC director Dr Rochelle Walensky told CNN on Wednesday that health passes for fully vaccinated people, like those used in parts of Europe, “may very well be a way forward.”
But she admitted that there was little the federal government could do to demand vaccines from the general population.
The White House and members of the Biden administration have also previously indicated that they support the decisions of private companies to impose vaccinations against Covid-19.
“These are decisions the federal government is not going to make,” US surgeon general Vivek Murthy told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday. “It will be the institutions that will do them, but I think they are very reasonable, because this is a time when we have to take all possible measures to protect ourselves not only ourselves, but the people around us, from Covid- 19. ”
CNN’s Kevin Liptak, DJ Judd, Liz Stark, Jacqueline Howard, and Deidre McPhillips contributed to this report.