President Joe Biden on Thursday announced vaccine requirements for federal workers, along with plans to encourage businesses to require vaccinations and efforts to expand testing. Photo by Oliver Contreras/UPI | License Photo
Sept. 9 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden on Thursday announced new COVID-19 vaccination mandates for federal employees seeking to get nearly two-thirds of the American workforce vaccinated.
Biden signed a pair of executive orders requiring all federal workers, contractors and healthcare workers employed by institutions that accept Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement to get vaccinated. Those affected by the mandate won't have the ability to opt out by subjecting to frequent testing.
It would also require 300,000 educators in federal Head Start programs to be fully vaccinated.
He also called on governors throughout the nation to require vaccinations for all teachers and staff, saying the plan takes on elected officials in states that are "undermining" school officials that seek to implement mask mandates and other "life-saving actions."
"Right now, local school officials are trying to keep children safe in a pandemic while their governor picks a fight with them and even threatens their salaries or their jobs. Talk about bullying in schools," Biden said.
Biden said that if governors do not help to beat the pandemic, he would use his power as president to "get them out of the way."
He noted that the Education Department has already undertaken legal action against governors that undermine protection for students and assured that any teacher or school official whose pay is withheld for "doing the right thing" will have their pay fully restored by the federal government.
During his speech at the White House Thursday, Biden also directed the Department of Labor to require all businesses with 100 or more employees to require that workers be fully vaccinated or get tested for the virus once a week. Employers who fail to meet these requirements could face fines of up to $14,000 per violation.
Biden said the plans will affect 100 million workers.
"We've been patient, but our patience is wearing thin and your refusal has cost all of us," Biden said in an appeal to unvaccinated Americans. "So please, do the right thing."
The president also moved to make testing more accessible, announcing Walmart, Amazon and Kroger will begin selling at-home rapid tests for no profit, a 35% price cut, by the end of the week.
The federal government will also expand free testing programs to 10,000 pharmacies and Medicaid will cover the costs of at-home tests for beneficiaries.
Further, Biden called on entertainment venues to require vaccination for entry and for physicians to encourage their patients to get vaccinated.
Biden on Thursday also clarified that the administration's plan to provide booster shots to Americans who have already completed their vaccine regimen.
Officials originally said last month that a Pfizer and Moderna booster shot would be available starting on Sept. 20, but health experts have said more data should be analyzed before it's clear that booster doses are needed.
The president said government doctors believe boosters are likely to provide the highest level of protection against the virus yet but assured they will not be administered until they have received full approval from the Food and Drug Administration.
"The decision of which booster shots to give, when to start them and who will give them will be left completely to the scientists at the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control," Biden said.
He added, however in the meantime, the administration has secured enough booster shots and prepared the distribution system to administer them as quickly as possible.
"As soon as they are authorized, those eligible will be able to get a booster right away in tens of thousands of cities across the country for most Americans at your nearby drugstore and for free," he said.