U.S. President Joe Biden speaks about the pace of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccinations in the United States during remarks in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 29, 2021.
Evelyn Hockstein | Reuters
“This is not about red states and blue states. It’s literally about life and death,” he said. “With freedom comes responsibility. Your decision to be unvaccinated impacts someone else.”
The new rules and perks come as officials at all levels of government struggle to bolster Covid vaccination rates that have flattened out in recent weeks, even as the highly transmissible delta variant spreads nationwide.
Some state and regional leaders have already put new vaccine protocols in place. California and New York announced earlier this week that they will require most state employees to either get vaccinated or face mandatory weekly Covid testing.
Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser earlier Thursday reimposed a requirement that masks be worn indoors, a measure that had been lifted months earlier, when new cases and deaths from Covid were on the decline.
In its own buildings, the federal government is requiring that every employee and on-site contractor “attest,” or confirm, their vaccination status, according to a White House fact sheet.
Those who do not will be required to wear a mask on the job, regardless of their location, and must comply with Covid testing once or twice per week, the White House said.
They will also have to be physically distanced from all other employees and visitors, and they may face restrictions on official travel, according to the fact sheet.
“It’s an American blessing that we have vaccines for each and every American,” Biden said Thursday afternoon. “It’s such a shame to squander that blessing.”
Biden also announced that a Covid reimbursement program, which paid back small- and medium-sized businesses that offered paid leave for their employees to get vaccinated, would be expanded to include workers’ family members and kids, as well.
And Biden called on school districts across the country to host pop-up vaccination clinics in the coming weeks, while directing federal pharmacy program partners to work with schools.
In his speech, Biden repeatedly stressed that despite the rise in cases, the vaccines remain highly effective at saving lives and preventing severe illness from Covid, including the delta variant. He noted that the overwhelming majority of people hospitalized and killed from the virus have not been inoculated, describing the current crisis as a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
Biden also attempted to assuage fears about so-called breakthrough infections among vaccinated people, saying that such cases are rare. He added that as of now, medical officials say there is no need for fully vaccinated people to seek out a booster shot — though he suggested that could change in the future.
“The vaccines are safe, highly effective. There’s nothing political about them,” Biden said, underscoring the point by praising Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky for consistently supporting vaccinations.
“And his state’s in pretty good shape,” Biden added.
The Biden administration had previously discouraged federal agencies from requiring vaccination for on-site work.
The president in May had also proclaimed that, “If you’ve been vaccinated, you don’t have to wear your mask.”
But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reversed its guidance on wearing masks indoors, recommending they be worn in places with high Covid transmission rates. Biden, who is fully vaccinated, said he would follow the agency’s recommendations.