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Monday, September 27, 2021

Explained: What Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate means for US

Joe Biden on Friday announced far-reaching new federal requirements that could force millions to get shots.

By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: September 10, 2021 2:33:36 pm
US President Joe Biden (AP)

US President Joe Biden has announced new federal coronavirus vaccine requirements as the United States struggle to contain the highly infectious Delta variant of COVID-19.

The mandate calls for compulsory vaccinations of employees of federal government and large private sector companies, supported by a booster shot campaign against the highly transmissible Delta variant. Biden has coupled this with strengthening of existing mask requirements for interstate travel and in federal buildings, lower-cost at-home COVID tests, and more.

The booster short campaign is scheduled to start around September 20, subject to approval from Food and Drug Administration.

Who will be affected?

The mandate will apply to all employers with more than 100 workers. Biden has said that all such large businesses in the country should ensure that their workers are vaccinated or tested for the virus weekly. The companies would be required to provide paid time off to get their vaccines.

The order also applies to employees working with the federal government. This includes those who work with the executive branch and as contractors for the federal government. Vaccination is mandatory for such employees — they will not have an option to take weekly tests instead.

Workers in healthcare facilities that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid will also have to be fully vaccinated.

In schools, Biden has urged governors to make vaccination mandatory for school district employees. The mandate suggests that stadiums, concert halls and other similar venues — where large gatherings are expected — require proof of vaccination or negative COVID test.

Additionally, he announced that free COVID testing will be available in 10,000 more pharmacies and that at-home COVID tests will be offered at Walmart, Amazon and Kroger at a lower cost.

What are the other rules?

The administration announced that fines will be doubled for those who violate rules that require masks on public transportation, including flights and trains. The rule requiring masks on planes and all public transit will remain in effect until at least January 18, the Department of Homeland Security said.

From Friday, travellers would be required to pay $500 to $1,000 if they are first-time offenders and $1,000 to $3,000 if they are second-time offenders. Currently, the fine starts at $250 and is capped at $1,500 for repeat offenders.

Why now?

The United States had been battered by the first wave of coronavirus pandemic, with then-President Donald Trump facing criticism from health experts for his unscientific approach to controlling the virus spread. After Biden took over office in early 2021, the focus had shifted to vaccination of all citizens, and for a brief period, it looked as though things were under control — in May, Biden took off his mask in public, a move hailed as a major step to returning to pre-pandemic life in the US.

However, months later, the situation has reversed. The number of confirmed cases of the virus have shot up in recent weeks, reaching an average of about 1,40,000 cases per day, according to an AP report. On average, about 1,000 Americans are dying from the virus daily, shows data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Currently, 75.3% of adults in the US have taken at least one dose of COVID vaccine. Biden estimates that around 80 million remain partially vaccinated or unvaccinated, and it is this category that he aims to target with the new mandate.

Prior to making vaccination mandatory, the various branches of the government had reached out to the citizens with educational messaging, advertisements and social media campaigns on the safety and efficacy of the vaccines. States like California, Massachusetts, Ohio, Arkansas and Michigan held lotteries for residents who get COVID-19 shots, promising coveted sports tickets, tuition fees, cars, beer and even $1 million cash prize. These efforts however did not yield results long term.

How is it being received?

The new vaccine mandate has received mixed responses, mostly along predictable part lines. Many Republican members have referred to the move as “unconstitutional” and “un-American” and said that they plan to sue Biden administration.

Republican governor from Mississippi Tate Reeves said that while the vaccine itself is life-saving, the “unconstitutional move is terrifying”. “This is still America, and we still believe in freedom from tyrants,” Reeves wrote on Twitter.

Ronna McDaniel, the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, too called the move an “un-American federal decree,” and South Carolina Republican Gov. Henry McMaster said: “Rest assured, we will fight them to the gates of hell to protect the liberty and livelihood of every South Carolinian.”

Businesses, manufacturers associations and tech companies have broadly indicated that they welcome the move. Reeling under months of pandemic-induced disruptions and economic losses, association leaders said that they will work with the President to implement the mandate.

“We look forward to working with the administration to ensure any vaccine requirements are structured in a way that does not negatively impact the operations of manufacturers that have been leading through the pandemic to keep Americans safe,” said National Association of Manufacturers President and CEO Jay Timmons, reported AP.

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