President Joe Biden signed an executive order Thursday requiring all federal employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 with no exceptions as part of his administration’s new six-part plan to combat the coronavirus as daily cases hover at a record high while vaccination rates stall.
The six pillars of Biden’s new plan, which were unveiled on Wednesday afternoon, include: vaccinating the unvaccinated; further protecting the vaccinated through booster shots; keeping schools open; increasing testing and requiring masks; protecting the economic recovery; and improving care for those infected with COVID-19.
“This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Biden said in his Thursday afternoon speech discussing details of the new plan. “Many of us are frustrated with the nearly 80 million Americans who are still not vaccinated, even though vaccines are safe, effective and free.”
The new federal vaccine mandate goes a step further than an earlier plan Biden announced over the summer, which urged federal employees to be vaccinated but allowed some workers to opt out as long as they were regularly tested and practiced prevention measures.
The new executive mandate, which the White House estimates will cover more than two million workers, also applies to employees of contractors who do business with the federal government.
“This is not about freedom or personal choice,” Biden said Thursday. “This is about protecting yourself and those around you, people you work with, people you care about, people you love.”
The Biden administration has said the federal government should set an example for private businesses to draft their own vaccine mandates, and has praised large companies that require employees to be vaccinated. Under the new coronavirus plan, the White House is directing the U.S. Department of Labor to put out an emergency rule for employers with more than 100 employees to have a vaccine or testing requirement.
President Biden said last month that a third dose of Moderna or Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine would be made available for American adults on September 20. The plan has been delayed now after top health officials advised the White House to wait till they’ve reviewed all the necessary data.
Biden said his top government doctors believe that “the booster likely provides the highest level of protection yet.” “Of course, the decision of which booster shot to give, when to start them, and who will get them will be left completely to the scientists at the FDA and CDC,” he added.
The FDA’s acting commissioner Janet Woodcock and CDC director Rochelle P. Walensky said Thursday that their agencies may be able to determine in the coming weeks whether to recommend boosters only for some of the recipients of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, according to The New York Times.
The FDA is set to meet next Friday, September 17, to discuss COVID-19 booster shots.
In order to keep schools open this fall and contain the coronavirus’ spread amongst the broader public, President Biden on Thursday announced steps to expand of free COVID-19 testing. He said his administration is ramping up the production of rapid COVID-19 test kits under the Defense Production Act while working with the nation’s top retailers, including Amazon, Krogers and Walmart, to distribute those kits.
These retailers will begin selling at-home rapid test kits at cost next week, Biden promised. In addition, free testing is coming to 10,000 pharmacies around the country. The administration is also committing $2 billion to purchasing more than three million test kits for community health centers, food banks and schools.
The country is reporting an average of 151,500 new cases per day, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, a level unseen since January. The daily COVID-19 death toll, which hovers around $1,500, is in line with numbers seen in March when the U.S. was coming down from its winter surge.