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U.S. unveils COVID-19 vaccine requirements for 100 million workers

"The choice is simple: get more people vaccinated, or prolong this pandemic," President Joe Biden said Thursday.

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U.S. unveils COVID-19 vaccine requirements for 100 million workers
A new policy requiring vaccination or weekly testing applies to about 84 million U.S. workers. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

Nov. 4 (UPI) -- Tens of millions of American workers have two months to get fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or they'll have to be tested every week and wear a mask in the workplace, under new rules issued by U.S. officials on Thursday.

The White House unveiled two new vaccination policies from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, prompting pushback from Florida and other states.

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The OSHA policy requires vaccination for workers at companies with more than 100 employees. The deadline to be fully vaccinated for those workers is Jan. 4. There are about 84 million workers in this category.

Companies that fail to comply could face a fine of almost $14,000 per violation.

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The CMS rule is even tougher, and mandates that almost 20 million nursing home, hospital and other health workers receive the vaccine. There is no weekly testing option for these employees. The CMS rule applies to all health facilities that receive federal funding.

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The health workers can request an exemption on medical or religious grounds.

President Joe Biden speaks about COVID-19 vaccines for children on Wednesday in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C. Photo by Leigh Vogel/UPI

"The choice is simple: get more people vaccinated, or prolong this pandemic," President Joe Biden said in a statement Thursday. "The virus will not go away by itself, or because we wish it away. We have to act."

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"While I would have much preferred that requirements not become necessary, too many people remain unvaccinated for us to get out of this pandemic for good," he added. "So I instituted requirements -- and they are working."

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the state would sue the administration to block the mandate in a press conference on Thursday.

"People are so sick of constantly being bossed around, restricted, mandated and all of these different things," DeSantis said. "We've had enough of it and we want people to be able to make their own decisions."

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Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody said the mandate represented an unprecedented use of OSHA's power.

"OSHA has never used its authority like this and it's absurd," said Moody. "This rule requires employees get vaccinated or be weekly tested and wear a face covering. I've already heard from employers that this will affect numerous employees, some up to 35%."

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Georgia and Alabama will also join the lawsuit.

Florida has also sued the Biden administration over its vaccine mandate for federal contractors and the administration has returned suit, suing the state to block the Florida Department of Education's decision to withhold funds from the Broward and Alachua county school districts for requiring masks at their schools.

During his speech Thursday, Biden said vaccine requirements are good for the economy and make it more resilient against the coronavirus and the Delta variant.

"The overwhelming majority of Americans choose to get vaccinated. There have been no 'mass firings' and worker shortages because of vaccination requirements," the president said. "Despite what some predicted and falsely assert, vaccination requirements have broad public support.

"Vaccination requirements are nothing new. ... Safety rules in the workplace are nothing new either. ... And with today's actions, we now have requirements to protect people from something that has taken the lives of 750,000 Americans."

Officials said OSHA will help employers develop a vaccine or testing program with sample plans and other materials. The agency has already started to communicate with companies about the new rules.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 58% of the total U.S. population has been fully vaccinated, including almost 70% of adults and 85% of elderly Americans.

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The overall number is expected to rise with the CDC and Food and Drug Administration authorizing Pfizer's vaccine for children 5-11.

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