President Joe Biden announced Thursday during a speech in the East Room of the White House that he will implement new COVID requirements for federal workers and contractors. These employees will be asked to attest to their vaccination status, or else face constant masking, strict social distancing, weekly COVID testing, and travel restrictions.
Biden also urged state and local governments to incentivize the vaccine with $100 stipends to those who receive the inoculation voluntarily.
Though Biden did not announce that the same rules would apply to the military, the Pentagon revealed hours later that members of the armed forces will also be subject to the same rules. Biden also ordered the Department of Defense to take steps towards issuing a vaccination mandate that would affect almost 1.5 million troops. The Pentagon has currently reported that 1,027,730 service members are fully vaccinated and 233,565 are partially vaccinated.
“This is an American tragedy,” Biden said in issuing the new rules. “People are dying — and will die — who don’t have to die. If you’re out there unvaccinated, you don’t have to die. Read the news. You’ll see stories of unvaccinated patients in hospitals, as they’re lying in bed dying from COVID-19, they’re asking, ‘Doc, can I get the vaccine?’ The doctors have to say, ‘Sorry, it’s too late.’”
Biden also issued a sharp rebuke to the unvaccinated: “You present a problem to yourself, to your family, and to those with whom you work.”
Soon after Biden’s speech, White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that the administration is not considering a nationwide vaccine mandate. “That’s not an authority that we’re exploring at all,” Zients said.
Biden’s call to vaccinate did not sit well with everyone. Several sectors of the federal workforce raised concerns over the mandates.
“Forcing people to undertake a medical procedure is not the American way and is a clear civil rights violation no matter how proponents may seek to justify it,” said Larry Cosme, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association.
The American Postal Workers Union also voiced opposition to the requirement, arguing that policies on vaccines should be negotiated individually. Even the typically left-wing American Federation of Teachers said, “In order for everyone to feel safe and welcome in their workplaces, vaccinations must be negotiated between employers and workers, not coerced.”