President Joe Biden is stepping up efforts to get shots in people’s arms, including calling on states, territories and local governments to do more to incentivize vaccination by offering $100 to those who get vaccinated and reimbursing small- and medium-sized businesses for offering their employees paid leave to get their family members vaccinated.
“I know that paying people to get vaccinated might sound unfair to folks who have gotten vaccinated already. But here’s the deal, if incentives help us beat this virus, I believe we should use them,” Biden said Thursday. “We all benefit if we can get more people vaccinated.”
He also announced that every federal government employee and onsite contractor will be asked to “attest to their vaccination status,” and will require anyone not fully vaccinated to wear a mask at work regardless of where they live, social distance and get tested once or twice a week. Employees can also face restrictions on official travel.
“It’s literally about life and death. It’s about life and death. That’s what it’s about,” Biden said “I know people talk about freedom. But I learned growing up, school and my parents, with freedom comes responsibility. Your decision to be unvaccinated impacts someone else. Unvaccinated people spread the virus. They get sick and fill up our hospitals. And that means if someone else has a heart attack or breaks a hip, there may not be a hospital bed for them.”
Biden was also directing the Department of Defense to look into how and when they will add COVID-19 vaccination to the list of required vaccinations for members of the military, according to a fact sheet that was released to reporters.
“Our men and women in uniform who protect this country from grave threats should be protected as much as possible from getting COVID-19,” Biden said. “I think this is particularly important because our troops serve in places throughout the world, many where vaccination rates are low and disease is prevalent.”
He also addressed the Department of Veteran Affairs announcement earlier this week that it would mandate the vaccine for its doctors and nurses, comparing the decision to several major hospital systems. The VA’s decision came after four unvaccinated employees of the department died in recent weeks.
“We must do everything possible to protect our veterans from getting covid when they come to get medical care they so richly earned serving their country. We owe them,” he said.
Ahead of the president’s announcement, some groups representing large numbers of federal workers — including law enforcement and postal workers — raised some early objections.
“As an association representing those men and women charged with protecting the Constitutional rights of all Americans, including the right to privacy and choice, we are concerned by any move that would mandate the COVID-19 vaccine among federal employees,” Larry Cosme, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, said in a statement.
The statement also asked that the administration work collaboratively with the association and other federal employee groups to incentivize workers to be vaccinated.
Chad Hooper, the executive director of the Professional Managers Association — formed in 1981 by IRS managers — implored all of its members, their staff and eligible Americans to get vaccinated as soon as possible, but highlighted that any mandate imposed on the entire workforce would be the first of its kind.
“Consistent with vaccines for other illnesses, such as measles or influenza, PMA believes that agency leadership should have the discretion to determine whether any, some, or all of their staff must be vaccinated against COVID-19,” Hooper said in a statement.
“At this time, no COVID-19 vaccine has received full approval from the FDA, and this may be contributing to vaccine hesitancy across our country. We must ask the administration to craft any such mandate with care and consideration of our members’ individual contraindications as well as their closely held personal and religious beliefs,” the statement continued.
Pfizer, Moderna and the Johnson and Johnson vaccines were granted an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), but the FDA is facing pressure to issue full authorization of the vaccines, which could open the door to mandates in schools, and the military.
“The FDA recognizes that vaccines are key to ending the COVID-19 pandemic and is working as quickly as possible to review applications for full approval,” FDA spokesperson Alison Hunt said in a statement.