Joe Biden makes COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for millions of American workers

The US President is requiring tens of millions of workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as the country battles the Delta variant.

US President Joe Biden

US President Joe Biden Source: Stefani Reynolds/Pool/ABACAPRESS.COM

US President Joe Biden has announced a major escalation in the national COVID-19 immunisation campaign with strict new vaccination rules affecting tens of millions of workers, as he hardened his tone towards Americans who refuse the shots.

The six-point plan targets businesses with more than 100 employees, in the United States' most aggressive steps taken so far against the surging Delta variant.

"A distinct minority of Americans supported by a distinct minority of elected officials are keeping us from turning the corner," the Democrat president said in a televised address from the White House on Thursday local time.

"The unvaccinated overcrowd our hospitals, are overrunning emergency rooms and intensive care units, leaving no room for someone with a heart attack or pancreatitis or cancer," he added.

"We've been patient. But our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us."

The Australian government has refused to mandate vaccines for all workplaces, saying employers will be left to give “reasonable directives” to their staff.

Some individual companies have already decided to make vaccination compulsory for their employees.

The most expansive of the new US action involves requiring private companies with more than 100 workers to ensure they are vaccinated or tested weekly. The federal measure will impact an estimated 80 million people.

Republican politicians immediately slammed the administration and claimed it was overstepping its authority.

"Sounds a lot like a dictatorship," House Republicans tweeted on their official account.

The plan also mandates vaccinations for all federal employees and contractors.

Currently, government workers either need to have a vaccine or submit to regular testing, whereas the new rule will enforce virtually total vaccination.

Some 17 million health care workers at facilities receiving government Medicare or Medicaid program funding will also require vaccination.

Only exemptions will be allowed for religious reasons or for people with disabilities - a strict approach sure to put Mr Biden on a collision course with right-wing media and other powerful groups arguing that mandates amount to an attack on individual freedoms.

Some 80 million Americans remain unvaccinated. Research shows they tend to be younger, less educated, and more likely to be Republican.

White people account for the largest share of people who remain unvaccinated, but Black and Hispanic people are less likely than their white counterparts to have received a vaccine, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The administration's early success in rolling out vaccinations and promoting mask-wearing gave Mr Biden a lift after taking office in January.

After leading the world in coronavirus deaths under former president Donald Trump, the United States became a model for how to beat the pandemic. 

On 4 July, Mr Biden even held a big White House barbecue to celebrate US Independence Day and freedom from lockdowns.

But the emergence of the hard-to-stop Delta variant over the summer has filled intensive care units again - and some 1,500 people are dying every day, according to Johns Hopkins data.

The federal government has distributed free vaccine supplies across the country and also became the world's largest donor to poorer nations.

However, state governments, notably in Republican Texas and Florida, have actively resisted imposing mask mandates, while swaths of their populations refuse to get vaccinated - even as cases around them soar.

Mr Biden and his supporters have taken to calling the current virus surge a "pandemic of the unvaccinated".

Published 10 September 2021 at 11:38am
Source: AFP - SBS