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Biden Orders Tough Fed Vaccine Rules   07/30 06:27

   President Joe Biden has announced sweeping new pandemic requirements aimed 
at boosting vaccination rates for millions of federal workers and contractors 
as he lamented the "American tragedy" of rising-yet-preventable deaths among 
the unvaccinated.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Joe Biden has announced sweeping new pandemic 
requirements aimed at boosting vaccination rates for millions of federal 
workers and contractors as he lamented the "American tragedy" of 
rising-yet-preventable deaths among the unvaccinated.

   Federal workers will be required to sign forms attesting they've been 
vaccinated against the coronavirus or else comply with new rules on mandatory 
masking, weekly testing, distancing and more. The strict new guidelines are 
aimed at increasing sluggish vaccination rates among the huge number of 
Americans who draw federal paychecks -- and to set an example for private 
employers around the country.

   "Right now, too many people are dying or watching someone they love die and 
say, 'If I'd just got the vaccine,'" Biden said in a somber address Thursday 
from the East Room of the White House. "This is an American tragedy. People are 
dying who don't have to die."

   However, pushback to Biden's action is certain. It puts him squarely in the 
center of a fierce political debate surrounding the government's ability to 
compel Americans to follow public health guidelines.

   The federal government directly employs about 4 million people, but Biden's 
action could affect many more when federal contractors are factored in. New 
York University professor of public service Paul Light estimates there are 
nearly 7 million more employees who could potentially be included, combining 
those who work for companies that contract with the government and those 
working under federal grants.

   Biden, seemingly fed up with persistent vaccine resistance among many 
Americans, delivered a sharp rebuke to those who have yet to get shots, saying 
"they get sick and fill up our hospitals," taking beds away from others who 
need them.

   "If in fact you are unvaccinated, you present a problem to yourself, to your 
family and those with whom you work," he said bluntly."

   At the same time, he expressed sympathy for people who have received their 
shots and are "frustrated with the consequences of the minority that fail to 
get vaccinated." And he again emphasized that the fight against the virus is 
far from over, girding Americans to remain strong in the face of setbacks in 
the pandemic.

   "I know this is hard to hear. I know it's frustrating. I know it's 
exhausting to think we're still in this fight. I know we hoped this would be a 
simple straightforward line, without problems or new challenges. But that isn't 
real life," he said.

   His comments came as some 60% of American adults have been fully vaccinated. 
He had set a July 4 goal to get at least one shot in 70% of adults and is still 
not quite there. The latest figure is 69.3%. And there remains significant 
resistance from many Republicans and some unions to vaccine mandates for 
employers.

   Reflecting an awareness of the political landmines surrounding mandates, 
administration officials emphasize that their plan does not require workers to 
receive the vaccine but aims to make life more difficult for those who are 
unvaccinated to encourage them to comply. Biden directed his team to take steps 
to apply similar requirements to all federal contractors.

   He also directed the Defense Department to look into adding the COVID-19 
shot to its list of required vaccinations for members of the military. Service 
members already are required to get as many as 17 vaccines, depending on where 
they are based around the world.

   Over and over, the president repeated that the vast majority of those 
falling ill and dying in the new wave of the delta virus are unvaccinated, 
putting others at risk and endangering the nation's fragile economic recovery 
and return to normalcy.

   "It's an American blessing that we have vaccines for each and every 
American. It's such a shame to squander that blessing," said Biden.

   He praised the recent increase in Republican lawmakers urging those who are 
not vaccinated -- many of whom, polling suggests, identify as conservatives -- 
to get their shots. And seeking to push back against skepticism among some 
Republicans over the safety of the vaccine, he gave a nod to predecessor Donald 
Trump, noting that it was "developed and authorized under a Republican 
administration."

   "This is not about red states and blue states," he said. "It's literally 
about life and death, life and death."

   Biden renewed his calls for schools to fully open this fall, although 
children under 12 are not yet eligible to receive the vaccine. And he said that 
public health officials do not yet believe Americans need a booster vaccine 
despite the highly contagious delta variant fueling the surge.

   The new pressure on workers to get vaccinated could work because evidence 
shows people would rather get the vaccine than deal with burdens they consider 
onerous at work, said Lawrence Gostin, a professor of global health law at 
Georgetown University Law School.

   "People would much rather roll up their sleeves and get a jab, than undergo 
weekly testing and universal masking," he said. "In many ways, this is really 
not a mandate, it's giving workers a choice."

   Thursday's move is not just about federal workers.

   The administration hopes it will nudge private companies push their workers 
harder to get vaccines that, while widely recognized as safe and effective, 
have yet to receive full approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

   "I think we've reached this tipping point, and Biden's announcement will 
provide a lot of air cover for companies and boards of directors who have 
difficult decisions facing them," said Jeff Hyman, a Chicago-based business 
author and recruiter for start-up companies.

   Some of the nation's biggest corporations have moved to require vaccinations 
for their workers. Tech giants Facebook and Google announced this week their 
employees would have to show proof they've been fully vaccinated before 
returning to work.

   Delta and United airlines are requiring new employees to show proof of 
vaccination. Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are requiring workers to disclose 
their vaccination status though not requiring them to be vaccinated.

   But fewer than 10% of employers have said they intend to require all 
employees to be vaccinated, based on periodic surveys by the research firm 
Gartner.

   Still, there is opposition.

   State lawmakers across the U.S. have introduced more than 100 bills aiming 
to prohibit employers from requiring vaccination as a condition of employment, 
according to the National Academy for State Health Policy. At least six states 
have approved such bills.

   The Justice Department and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity 
Commission have both said no federal laws prevent businesses from requiring 
vaccinations as a condition of employment and the federal policy would take 
precedent. But the "medical freedom" bills underscore the resistance such 
guidance may encounter at the state level.

   Government actions in New York City and California have faced resistance 
from local unions. And prior to Biden's announcement, some national unions were 
speaking out against it.

   Larry Cosme, President of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, 
which represents 30,000 federal officers and agents, said in a statement while 
the organization supports the vaccine it opposes compelling it.

   "Forcing people to undertake a medical procedure is not the American way and 
is a clear civil rights violation no matter how proponents may seek to justify 
it," he said.

 
 
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