WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden is pushing an ambitious plan to vaccinate millions of private sector employees by early next year. But first, he must make sure that employees in his own federal government get the chance.
About 4 million federal employees must be vaccinated by November 22, in accordance with a presidential decree. Some employees, for example in the White House, are almost all vaccinated. But according to agencies and union leaders, the rates are lower in other federal agencies, especially those associated with law enforcement and intelligence. And some resisting workers are digging, filing lawsuits and protesting against what they believe is an unfair abuse by the White House.
The upcoming deadline is the first test of Biden’s drive to get people vaccinated. In addition to the federal workers rule, another mandate will go into effect in January, targeting some 84 million private sector workers, according to guidelines released last week.
On Saturday, a federal appeals court in Louisiana temporarily suspended vaccine requirements for businesses with 100 or more employees. The administration is confident that this requirement will pass legal tests in part because its safety regulations take precedence over state law.
“The president and administration would not have introduced these requirements if they didn’t think they were appropriate and necessary,” Chief Surgeon Vivek Murthy said Sunday on ABC’s This Week. “And the administration is definitely ready to protect them.”
If the mandates are successful, they could seriously affect the number of new cases of coronavirus since the vaccine first became available, especially with the news last week that children aged 5-11 could receive the vaccine, making available 64 million more people. … But with two weeks left until the deadline for federal workers, some union leaders representing workers say it is becoming increasingly difficult to convince the unvaccinated 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 Trammel, Bureau of Prisons correctional officer and president of a local union in Louisiana. “But it’s not like that. And now I have people who are retiring because they are tired of the excessive efforts of the government, they do not want to get into the picture. People just don’t trust the government and they just don’t trust this vaccine. ”
Vaccines have a proven track record for safety, backed by clinical trials and independent reviews showing that they are extremely effective in preventing serious illness and death from COVID-19. More than 222 million Americans have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and over 193 million are fully vaccinated. More than half of the world’s population also received an injection.
Scientists have been grappling with concerns about the vaccine since it was first approved; An AP-NORC poll earlier this year found that a third of US adults were skeptical, despite assurances that the vaccine was safe and effective, with few serious side effects. About 70% of American adults are fully vaccinated, and 80% have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
Vaccination rates in the federal government have been uneven.
Officials from the Department of Health and Human Services, the US Food and Drug Administration, Housing and Utilities and Urban Development have said they are working to vaccinate their employees, but have no numbers yet.
As of late October, at least 20% of employees were not vaccinated by several intelligence agencies as of late October, according to US spokesman Chris Stewart, a Republican from Utah who is a member of the House Intelligence Committee.
Federal Law Enforcement Association President Larry Cosmi said the association has about 31,000 members from 65 federal law enforcement agencies and estimates that 60% of them have been vaccinated.
Homeland Security, a giant government agency with more than 240,000 employees, had about 64% fully vaccinated by the end of last month. The US Customs and Border Protection has received at least 6,000 requests for benefits for medical or religious reasons, according to a union that represents border patrol agents.
Federal agencies are warning employees of the upcoming mandate, offering free time for vaccinations, and encouraging workers to obey. But they won’t be fired if they don’t make it by November 22nd. They will receive “advice” and give five days to start the vaccination process. They can then be suspended for 14 days and eventually terminated, but this process will take months.
Republicans argued that the mandate was going too far. In late October, Republicans on a House committee of Representatives sent a letter stating that “the president’s authoritarian and extreme mandates infringe on American freedoms, are unprecedented, and may ultimately be outlawed.”
In their letter, representatives James Comer of Kentucky and Jodie Hayes of Georgia said they were worried about the large number of government vacancies if thousands of workers refused and were fired. This concern was shared by the staff of the already understaffed Bureau of Prisons.
Florida’s federal corrections union filed a mandate violation lawsuit last week, claiming it was a violation of civil rights. Some prison officials say they are worried about the vaccine, not wanting to lose their livelihood, but also not willing to sacrifice their personal beliefs. Near-retirement officers are considering leaving rather than getting vaccinated.
One West Virginia prison worker wrote to a colleague that he didn’t want to be a guinea pig and wrote, “It would be different if this weren’t new. But this. And I don’t want to be your experiment. “
The worker, describing how painful this decision was, said: “I cried and vomited, my eyes and stomach hurt.” The worker wondered if it was wrong to firmly resist the vaccine.
According to union president Brandon Judd, border patrol officials have been ordered to confirm their vaccination status by Tuesday. As of Thursday, 49% of Border Patrol agents said they were fully vaccinated, and about 7% said they weren’t vaccinated, Judd said.
It is unclear at this point how many of them will continue to refuse unless they are granted exemption and face job loss as a result.
“When it comes to loss of livelihood or vaccination, I think the vast majority will eventually get vaccinated,” Judd said. “We will lose people. How much? I really couldn’t have predicted it. “
Sisak reported from New York. Associated Press contributors Zeke Miller, Ben Fox, Gary Fields, Hope Yen, and Ashraf Khalil contributed to this report.