Last night, President Biden announced a new COVID-19 vaccine mandate as part of a major plan to contain the pandemic.
“Even as the Delta variant—COVID-19—has been hitting this country hard, we have the tools to combat the virus, if we can come together as a country and use those tools,” Biden said in a speech on September 9, 2021. “If we raise our vaccination rate, protect ourselves and others with masking and expanded testing, and identify people who are infected, we can and we will turn the tide on COVID-19.”
He went on to announce the COVID-19 Action Plan, a six-point strategy to get ahold of the pandemic which includes getting more people vaccinated, adding even more protection for those who are already vaccinated, making sure schools can stay open safely, implementing other precautions (including making free COVID-19 tests widely available and requiring masks in certain situations), improving care for people with COVID-19, and protecting the country’s economic recovery.
As you might imagine, that includes many intertwined strategies. But the one that’s already gotten the most attention is a vaccine mandate that will apply to all private companies with 100 or more employees. The plan also includes a requirement that those employers give people paid time off in order to get the vaccines.
“I’m announcing that the Department of Labor is developing an emergency rule to require all employers with 100 or more employees, that together employ over 80 million workers, to ensure their workforces are fully vaccinated or show a negative test at least once a week,” Biden said. “We’re going to protect vaccinated workers from unvaccinated co-workers. We’re going to reduce the spread of COVID-19 by increasing the share of the workforce that is vaccinated in businesses all across America.”
Legal experts previously told SELF that a vaccine mandate like this is unlikely to be a violation of health privacy regulations. And companies may be more comfortable implementing COVID-19 vaccine requirements now that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has full approval from the Food and Drug Administration.
The vaccine mandate—and the whole sweeping plan—is a bold move that public health experts have been eagerly waiting for.
“Biden’s 6-point Delta plan has much of what I’ve been wanting to see,” Celine Gounder, M.D., clinical assistant professor of medicine and infectious diseases at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine, wrote on Twitter. “Making use of the ENTIRE toolbox against COVID, including but not limited to vaccines.”
“I’m pretty thrilled with @potus announcement today,” Ashish K. Jha, M.D., MPH, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, said on Twitter. “COVID is killing 1500 Americans. Every. Day. We have the tools to defeat COVID.”
“This is the testing plan that we’ve been waiting for. Defense Production Act to ramp up rapid antigen test. Major retailers to sell COVID tests at cost. Expanding free testing at pharmacies,” Thomas Tsai, M.D., MPH, Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, wrote on Twitter. “With the new @WhiteHouse Path Out of the Pandemic Plan, we can refocus on #FlattenTheCurve through vaccinations, testing, ventilation, and masking. We did this in 2020 to protect the elderly in nursing homes. We can do this now to protect our children in schools,” he continued.
That said, there are a few places where they felt the plan could have gone further, and some expressed some reservations about whether there is really enough data to warrant third COVID-19 vaccine shots for the general public. But overall, the plan contains a combination of the public health measures we already know can help push out of the pandemic (including vaccines, testing, masks, and more) if they’re used effectively on a large scale.