President Joe Biden on Thursday announced new COVID-19 vaccination requirements for federal government employees, health care workers, and companies with 100 or more employees in a speech, and blamed the unvaccinated for keeping the country from "turning the corner on the pandemic."
"This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated, and it is caused by the fact that despite having an unprecedented and successful vaccination program, despite the fact that for the past 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," Biden said in an address to the nation. "This is unacceptable."
As part of a desperate bid to stop the spreading Delta variant that is killing over 2,000 Americans per day, all federal government workers will have to be vaccinated, according to details of the plan released Thursday. Under an emergency rule issued by the Department of Labor, all employers with 100 or more employees will also have to ensure their workers are fully vaccinated or are tested weekly, a requirement expected to impact more than 80 million people.
The new measures to slow the COVID pandemic are the newest and most stringent requirements issued under the Biden administration, but the president argued they were needed to reach nearly 80 million people who remain unvaccinated and continue to spread the virus, threatening the progress that has so far been made against the pandemic.
Roughly 25% of people eligible for the vaccine remain unvaccinated, Biden said.
"That 25 can cause a lot of damage and they are," he said. "The unvaccinated overcrowd our hospitals, overrun emergency rooms and intensive care units, leaving no room for someone with a heart attack, or pancreatitis, or cancer."
Biden announced in July that federal employees must be vaccinated or tested weekly. But that mandate has now expanded with an executive order to require all federal branch executive workers to be vaccinated, as well as contractors who may work through another employer.
"You want to do business with the federal government, vaccinate your workforce," Biden said.
The announcement is sure to attract criticism and attacks from elected officials who have spoken out in opposition to any sort of vaccine mandate, and have fought against recommendations by health officials, including wearing masks.
Biden said his plan to tackle the continuous spread of COVID-19 and its Delta variant will target elected officials that have been "undermining" the efforts to curb the virus, especially at schools, since children under the age of 12 are still illegible to receive the vaccine.
"Local officials are trying to keep children safe while their governor picks a fight with them, even threatens their salaries and jobs — talk about bullying in schools," Biden said. "If they will not help, I'll use my power as president to get them out of their way."
Biden appeared to be referencing orders issued from conservative governors, including Ron DeSantis in Florida, who have threatened to withhold salaries of school officials who enact mask mandates.
DeSantis has issued an executive order banning districts from issuing mask requirements.
Biden said the federal government would pay teacher and educator's salaries if they are withheld by governors.
On Thursday, Biden also announced that over 17 million healthcare workers at hospitals that participate in Medicare and Medicaid must also be vaccinated. This follows an edict in August requiring nursing home staff to be fully vaccinated.
Vaccine requirements have already proved successful in increasing vaccination rates, according to the White House's "Path Out of the Pandemic" plan. For example, Tyson Foods, a huge meatpacking company, introduced a Nov. 1 deadline for its employees to be vaccinated. At the time of the announcement in August, only 45% had gotten one shot. Now that number is at 72%.
Biden urged Americans to get vaccinated, pointing out the vaccine is safe, approved by the FDA, has been proven to decrease the chances of serious health impacts in breakthrough cases.
"What more is there to wait for, what more do you need to see?" he said,. "We made vaccines free, safe, and convenient. The vaccine is FDA approved, 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."
The plan also requires nearly 300,000 educators under the federal government's Head Start Program to be vaccinated, expands free testing, and and includes $2 billion to distribute rapid tests in community health centers, food banks, and schools.
The president also announced that fees against those who refuse to wear a mask when traveling will be doubled, calling attacks on flight attendants by people refusing to wear masks "wrong" and "ugly."
The president's plan to tackle the Delta variant comes as hospitals are swamped with unvaccinated patients and death numbers in certain states skyrocket to their peak, despite vaccines having been widely available for months.