WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden is moving forward with a big plan to require millions of private sector workers to get vaccinated by early next year. But first, he must ensure that his own federal government workers get shot.
About 4 million federal employees are to be vaccinated by November 22 under a presidential executive order. Some employees, like White House employees, are given nearly all of the vaccines. But rates are lower than those at other federal agencies, particularly those related to law enforcement and intelligence, according to agencies and union leaders. And some resistance activists are digging in, suing and protesting what they say is unwarranted encroachment by the White House.
The upcoming deadline is the first test of Biden’s push to force people to get vaccinated. Beyond the federal worker rule, another mandate aimed at about 84 million private sector workers will take effect in January, according to guidelines this past week.
On Saturday, a federal appeals court in Louisiana temporarily blocked the vaccine requirement for businesses with 100 or more workers. The administration says it believes the requirement will face legal challenges partly because its safety regulations precede state laws.
“The president and administration would not have met these requirements if they didn’t think they were appropriate and necessary,” Surgeon General Vivek Murthy told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “And the administration is certainly ready to defend them.”
If the mandate is successful, they could make the most serious dent in new coronavirus cases since the vaccine first became available, especially with news last week that children aged 5-11 may qualify an additional 64 million. Can get shot to make. But with two weeks left until the federal worker deadline, some leaders of unions representing workers say it is increasingly challenging to persuade non-vaccinated people to change their minds.
“I got the vaccine in February, it was my own choice and I thought it would stop the virus,” said Corey Trammell, a prison corrections officer in Louisiana and president of the local union. “But that hasn’t happened. And now I have people resigning because they’re tired of the government overreacting on it, they don’t want to take the shot. People just don’t trust the government, and they trust this vaccine.” don’t.”
Vaccines have a proven track record of safety, backed by clinical trials and independent reviews, which show them to be highly effective in preventing serious illness and death from COVID-19. More than 222 million Americans have received at least one vaccine dose and more than 193 million have been fully vaccinated. More than half the world’s population has also got a shot.
Scientists have been grappling with concern since the vaccine was first authorized; An AP-NORC survey earlier this year found that a third of adults in the US were skeptical, despite assurances that the vaccine was safe and effective and there were few instances of serious side effects. About 70% of American adults are fully vaccinated and 80% have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
Vaccinations have surfaced at disproportionate rates across the federal government.
Officials from Health and Human Services, the US Food and Drug Administration and Housing and Urban Development said they were working on getting their employees vaccinated, but had no figures yet.
Many intelligence agencies did not have at least 20% of their staff vaccinated by the end of October, said Utah Republican US Representative Chris Stewart, who is a member of the House Intelligence Committee.
Larry Cosme, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, said the union has about 31,000 members from 65 federal law enforcement agencies and estimates that 60% of them have been vaccinated.
Homeland Security, a massive government department with more than 240,000 employees, was about 64% fully vaccinated as of the end of last month. According to the union representing Border Patrol agents, US Customs and Border Protection has received at least 6,000 requests for medical or religious exemptions.
Federal agencies are warning workers about upcoming mandates, offering time off to receive the vaccine and encouraging workers to comply. But they won’t be fired if they don’t make the November 22 deadline. They will receive “consultation” and will be given five days to start the vaccination process. They could then be suspended for 14 days and eventually terminated, but that process would take months.
Republicans have argued that the mandate goes too far. House Oversight Committee Republicans sent a letter in late October suggesting the president’s “authoritarian and extreme mandates infringe on American liberties, are unprecedented, and may ultimately be deemed unlawful.”
In his letter, Reps of Kentucky. James Comer and Jody Hiss of Georgia said they are concerned about the large number of government vacancies if thousands of workers are refused and fired. This concern was already felt by the employees of the Bureau of Prisons as well.
A federal corrections officers union in Florida sued the mandate last week, saying it was a civil rights violation. Some prison workers say they are torn about vaccines, not wanting to lose their livelihood, but also unwilling to sacrifice their personal beliefs. Officers nearing retirement age are considering quitting rather than getting vaccinated.
A prison employee in West Virginia wrote to a colleague that the worker was unwilling to be a guinea pig, writing: “It would be different if it wasn’t new. But it is. And I don’t want to be your experiment.”
The worker, describing how painful the decision was, said: “I have cried and my eyes and stomach hurt.” The activist wondered whether it was wrong to stand firmly against the vaccine.
According to union president Brandon Judd, Border Patrol staff have been instructed to confirm their vaccination status by Tuesday. Judd said that as of Thursday, 49% of Border Patrol agents said they were fully vaccinated and about 7% reported not being vaccinated.
It is unclear at this point how many people will continue to refuse if they are not exempted and face losing their jobs as a result.
“When it comes to losing your livelihood or getting vaccinated, I think the vast majority are going to get vaccinated eventually,” Judd said. “We’re going to lose people. How many? I really couldn’t have predicted it.”
Sisak reported from New York. Associated Press Writers Zeke Miller, Ben Fox, Gary Fields, Hope Yen and Ashraf Khalil contributed to this report.
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