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More than 90% of federal workers got COVID-19 vaccine before deadline, official says

Majority of federal workers complying with vaccine rule
More than 90% of federal workers have complied with vaccine rule 01:52

Washington — More than 90% of federal workers received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by Monday's deadline set by President Biden, a senior administration official said.

Mr. Biden announced in September that more than 3.5 million federal workers were required to undergo vaccination, with no with option to get regularly tested instead, unless they secured an approved medical or religious exemption. The official said the vast majority of federal workers are fully vaccinated, and that a smaller number have pending or approved exemptions to the mandate.

In all, more than 95% of federal workers are in compliance with the Biden mandate, the official said, either by being vaccinated or having requested an exemption. Workers who are not in compliance are set to begin a "counseling" process that could ultimately result in their termination if they don't get a shot or secure an approved exemption to vaccination.

The deadline is a major test of Mr. Biden's push to compel people across the country to get vaccinated, as his administration has emphasized that vaccination is the nation's surest way out from the pandemic. Beyond the federal worker rule, his administration is looking to compel large businesses to institute vaccinate-or-testing requirements that would cover more than 84 million workers, though plans for January enforcement have been on hold pending litigation.

There was considerable concern over whether federal employees would follow the mandate, particularly in law enforcement and intelligence agencies where there was vocal resistance, and among federal workers involved in the travel sector heading into the busy holiday travel season

The official said the administration doesn't anticipate any federal disruptions from the mandate. At the Federal Aviation Administration, 99% of employees are in compliance with Mr. Biden's order. At the Transportation Security Administration, 93% are in compliance, and 98% of Customs and Border Protection workers are in compliance.

On Wednesday, the Office of Management and Budget will release a breakdown of agency compliance rates, the official said.

Nearly 25% of the Internal Revenue Service's employees started getting vaccinated after Mr. Biden's announcement, and 98% of its employees are now in compliance with the requirement, according to the official.

Just about two weeks ago, several intelligence agencies had at least 20% of their workforce unvaccinated as of late October, said Representative Chris Stewart, a Utah Republican who is a member of the House Intelligence Committee. Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association President Larry Cosme said around the same time that there are about 31,000 members from 65 federal law enforcement agencies in the association and he estimated 60% of them have been vaccinated.

The White House is now aiming to use the federal vaccination mandate as a model for private businesses to implement their own mandates even before litigation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's is resolved. The Biden administration had set a January 4 deadline for federal contractors and employees at businesses with 100 or more workers to get vaccinated or undergo regular testing. 

Since Mr. Biden announced the first federal mandates earlier this summer, the number of unvaccinated Americans aged 12 and over has dropped from about 100 million to under 60 million. Health officials emphasize that the overwhelming majority of instances of serious illness and death from COVID-19 now occur among those who haven't received a vaccine.

For now, the federal government is considering fully vaccinated to mean two doses of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, or one dose of Johnson & Johnson. But as more people are expected to become eligible for booster shots, it's unclear if that will change in the future. 

Kristin Brown contributed reporting.

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