Washington — President Biden announced the most sweeping COVID-19 vaccine requirements yet on Thursday, which will affect roughly 100 million Americans. The new measures include a vaccine mandate for all federal workers and contractors, and a requirement that large companies must mandate vaccines or regular testing for employees.
"My job as president is to protect all Americans," Mr. Biden said Thursday. "So tonight, I'm announcing that the Department of Labor is developing an emergency rule to require all employers with 100 or more employees that together employ over 80 million workers to ensure their workforces are fully vaccinated or show a negative test at least once a week."
Mr. Biden noted that many large companies already require vaccinations. "The bottom line — we're going to protect vaccinated workers from unvaccinated coworkers," he said.
The Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration is developing a rule requiring all employers with at least 100 employees to make sure their workforce is fully vaccinated or require unvaccinated workers to get a negative test at least once a week. OSHA will issue an Emergency Temporary Standard to introduce the vaccine requirement. Companies that fail to comply could face fines of $14,000 per violation, Mr. Biden said.
That was just one of the mandates and changes the president announced in a speech on boosting vaccinations and battling the. The president also announced vaccination requirements for health care providers that accept Medicare and Medicaid, for all federal employees and contractors and for the staffs of Head Start programs, Department of Defense Schools and Bureau of Indian Education-operated schools. Mr. Biden had announced in July the federal workforce would need to provide evidence that they had been vaccinated or submit to regular testing and practice social distancing measures in the workplace.
Within hours of his speech, the Republican National Committee announced that it plans to file a lawsuit against the Biden administration.
"Joe Biden told Americans when he was elected that he would not impose vaccine mandates," RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement Thursday. "He lied. Now small businesses, workers, and families across the country will pay the price. Like many Americans, I am pro-vaccine and anti-mandate. Many small businesses and workers do not have the money or legal resources to fight Biden's unconstitutional actions and authoritarian decrees, but when his decree goes into effect, the RNC will sue the administration to protect Americans and their liberties."
The new mandates are part of a six-pronged White House strategy to battle the COVID-19 Delta variant and boost vaccinations as cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to climb. The six pillars are: vaccinating the unvaccinated; furthering protection for the unvaccinated; keeping schools safely open; increasing testing and requiring masking; protecting economic recovery; and improving care for those with COVID-19.
The president started out his speech by saying he knows many are frustrated with the 25% of adults in the U.S. who have yet to get a single COVID-19 shot. That 25% "can do a lot of damage," he said. He made an appeal directly to unvaccinated Americans.
"What more is there to wait for? What more do you need to see?" he said. "We've made vaccinations free, safe and convenient. The vaccine has FDA approval. Over 200 million Americans have gotten at least one shot. We've been patient. But our patience is wearing thin. And your refusal has cost all of us. So please, do the right thing."
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said earlier Thursday there will be limited disability and religious exceptions to the federal employee vaccine requirement. Those who are not exempt and do not comply will be subject to disciplinary action, including possible termination, she said.
"There are limited exceptions, but yeah, the expectation is that if you want to work in the federal government or be a contractor, you need to be vaccinated, unless you are eligible for one of the exemptions," Psaki told reporters.
The American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal employee union, is taking issue with the mandatory vaccine requirement, even though it has encouraged workers to get vaccinated. AFGE president Everett Kelley said that "changes like this should be negotiated with our bargaining units where appropriate," and he said the union expects to bargain over this rule before it's implemented.
Still, Psaki said the president "has every intention of signing this executive order, getting the clock running on the timeline for these requirements, and his view and our view is this will serve as a model to the rest of the country on the need to get more people vaccinated in order to save more lives."
The president also announced measures to ensure kids are adequately protected in classrooms, as he aims to make more testing available. He's also urging states to require vaccinations for all school teachers and staffs.
Mr. Biden also said he's using the Defense Production Act to ramp up the production of rapid COVID-19 tests, and at-home rapid tests will be available at major pharmacies over the next several months at cost.
CBS News has learned the president will raise the issue ofon a global scale with other world leaders when they meet at the United Nations General Assembly later this month. A senior administration official told CBS News that while they are "still planning the president's schedule around UN General Assembly High Level week, it is safe to assume we are actively looking at COVID-19 and public-health centered options."
The official stopped short of calling it a summit, but added that the administration anticipates "that there will be an opportunity for the president to engage with his counterparts on this issue during UNGA week." One topic expected to be discussed among Mr. Biden and his counterparts, according to a second administration official will be about advancing and improving international cooperation on research and development on the COVID-19 front.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 75.2% of American adults have at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot. But community transmission across most of the country remains high, as the Delta variant makes up nearly all of the country's cases. Nearly 650,000 people have died in the U.S. from COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic last year.
Here are the major measures announced Thursday:
How many people are affected?
The new vaccine mandates the president announced Thursday will affect roughly 100 million Americans, although many of that group are already vaccinated. The White House estimates there are roughly 80 million people working at companies with at least 100 employees. The White House also estimates the mandate will affect more than 17 million health care workers, as well as federal employees, and teachers and staff at specific Head Start programs and Department of Defense schools.
"This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated, and it's caused by the fact that despite America having unprecedented and a successful vaccination program, despite the fact that for almost five months, free vaccines have been available in 80,000 different locations, we still have nearly 80 million Americans who have failed to get the shot," the president said, making his case for the need for more aggressive action.
Companies with 100 or more employees will have to require shots or testing
The Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration, better known as OSHA, is developing an emergency rule requiring employers with at least 100 employees to require all employees to be vaccinated or get tested at least once a week. Failure to comply with the yet-to-be-released rule could result in a $14,000 fine.
The announcement marks the most authoritative step involving private businesses the administration has taken yet to curb the pandemic, and it's one that's sure to be challenged in court.
"The bottom line — we're going to protect vaccinated workers from unvaccinated coworkers,." he said.
Federal employees must be vaccinated
Mr. Biden issued an executive order on Thursday requiring all federal employees be vaccinated, with no option to undergo tests. "If you want to work for the federal government, get vaccinated," Mr. Biden said. "If you want to do business with the federal government, get vaccinated."
Mr. Biden also issued an executive order on Thursday requiring all contractors who do business with the government be vaccinated.
The executive orders both refer to the national emergency declared on January 31, 2020 and the National Emergency Concerning the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) declared pursuant to the National Emergencies Act in Proclamation 9994 of March 13, 2020, both of which remain in effect.
"The health and safety of the Federal workforce, and the health and safety of members of the public with whom they interact, are foundational to the efficiency of the civil service," both executive orders say. "I have determined that ensuring the health and safety of the Federal workforce and the efficiency of the civil service requires immediate action to protect the Federal workforce and individuals interacting with the Federal workforce. It is essential that Federal employees take all available steps to protect themselves and avoid spreading COVID-19 to their co-workers and members of the public. The CDC has found that the best way to do so is to be vaccinated."
Workers at health care facilities accepting federal funds will need to be vaccinated
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will require vaccinations for workers in most health care settings that receive Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement. That covers hospitals, home health agencies and many other types of health care facilities, and roughly 17 million workers.
"If you're seeking care at a health facility, you should be able to know that the people treating you are vaccinated," he said.
Air travelers refusing to wear masks could face up to $3,000 fines
Air travelers who refuse to wear masks could be, starting Friday.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced Thursday it will double fines for those who flout federal mask mandates for air travel.
First-time offenders will be fined $500 to $1,000, while repeat offenders will be forced to shell out $1,000 to $3,000.
Biden acknowledges "confusion" on booster shots
Several weeks after the Biden administration announced a plan to roll out booster shots, Mr. Biden acknowledged Thursday there is "confusion" around whether or when Americans should get them. Mr. Biden said that while the administration stands ready, the decision of which shots to give, to whom, and when "will be left completely to the scientists."