U.S. to Mandate COVID-19 Vaccines or Weekly Tests for Tens of Millions of Employees Next Year
Tens to millions of Americans work in businesses with more than 100 employees. They will be required to have their COVID-19 vaccine up-to-date by January 4.
Although the new requirements were initially previewed in September by President Joe Biden, they will now apply to around 84 millions workers working for medium or large companies. It is unclear how many of these employees have not been vaccinated.
Companies will be required to have unvaccinated employees test positive for COVID-19 at work once a week.
Another 17 million individuals who work at hospitals or nursing homes that receive Medicare and Medicaid will face tougher requirements. Those workers will not have an option for testing — they will need to be vaccinated.
Workers can ask for an exemption on religious or medical grounds.
OSHA stated that penalties could be as high as $14,000 for companies which fail to adhere to the regulations.
OSHA’s plans for enforcing the regulations were not clearly understood. According to a senior official in administration, OSHA will target businesses if there are complaints.
Following weeks of regulatory review meetings and discussions with unions, business groups and other organizations, the regulations were released. The regulations form the cornerstone of Biden’s most aggressive effort yet to combat the spread of COVID-19, which has killed more than 740,000 people in the U.S.
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OSHA created the rules in an emergency situation to safeguard workers against a health risk. In six months, OSHA estimates that vaccine mandates will protect more than 6500 workers’ lives and reduce the number of hospitalizations by more than 250,000.
According to senior administration officials, the rules are preemptive of any state law or order that might conflict, such as those that prohibit employers from ordering vaccinations or testing.
Republican officials from the states will challenge Biden’s administration immediately. The petition was launched by Senate Republicans to block the vote on the vaccine mandate. However, with Democrats in control of the chamber, it is almost certain that the attempt will fail.
Over two dozen Republicans who serve as state attorneys general indicated that they intend to sue. They argued that Congress is the only one capable of enacting such broad requirements in an emergency situation.
Last week, 19 states sued to stop Biden’s narrower mandate that employees of federal contractors be vaccinated. The requirement was due to be in effect December 8, but Biden’s administration delayed it until Jan. 4, to meet the needs of large employers as well as health care providers.
The rules will require workers to receive either two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine by Jan. 4 or be tested weekly. The workplace must ban employees who have tested positive.
Companies won’t be required to provide or pay for the tests, but they must give paid time off for employees to get vaccines and sick leave to recover from side effects that prevent them from working. Dec. 5th is the deadline for employers to provide masks for employees and for them to receive paid time off for shots.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued a separate rule requiring vaccination for workers in 76,000 health facilities and home health care providers that get funding from the government health programs. A senior administration official said that several large private health care organizations imposed their own mandates and achieved high vaccination rates — 96% or higher — without widespread resignations.
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White House considers these new requirements a tool that can be used to reduce the number of Americans who refuse to take part in the lottery.
Biden has been encouraging businesses for several weeks to stop waiting for OSHA to go into effect. Biden has highlighted businesses that had already declared their vaccine mandates and advised other companies not to wait for the OSHA rule.
Administration officials say those efforts are paying off, with about 70% of the nation’s adults now fully vaccinated.
Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer, said in late July it was requiring all workers at its headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, as well as its managers who travel within the U.S., to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 4. The company didn’t require vaccinations for the frontline workers.
United Airlines mandated all U.S.-based employees get vaccinated. If they don’t, their jobs could be terminated. A very few of the 67,000 employees refused to get vaccinated.
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Tyson Foods insisted that its American workers, which number 120,000, be immunized by November 1. One week earlier than the deadline, Tyson Foods stated that 96% had been fully vaccinated.
Some companies are concerned that vaccine-refractive workers may leave, making it even more difficult to maintain a workforce in a labor market already tight.
Many large businesses complained about the timing and scope of the mandate. Retailers worried about the impact on their business during Christmas. Other retailers and other stakeholders also stated that the requirement could cause disruptions in supply chains.
National Retail Federation stated that new regulations are unnecessary because of the drop in new daily cases per capita since September.
“Nevertheless, the Biden administration has chosen to declare an ‘emergency’ and impose burdensome new requirements on retailers during the crucial holiday shopping season,” said David French, a senior vice president for the trade group.
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The U.S. still has an epidemic of COVID-19 cases, but it is declining due to a dip in summer fevers caused by highly contagious Delta variant. However, the decline rate has been slowing in recent weeks. With more than 76,000 deaths and 76,000 new cases, the seven-day average has fallen 6% since two weeks ago.
Opponents protested the mandate to federal contractors, which led to workers at a Mississippi NASA rocket engine testing site. Some claimed that they are protected from COVID-19. Others claimed vaccines were against their constitutional rights and religion.
“No one should be forced to take a medical treatment just to keep their job,” said Nyla Trumbach, an engineer at the site. “There’s years and years of experience and skill out here, and I just want anyone who’s watching to see what we stand to lose here if these people don’t keep their jobs.”
Several groups requested meetings with officials from the administration to discuss their objections and concerns to the OSHA rules, which included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers.
This report was contributed by the Associated Press Writers Paul Wiseman, Stacey Plaisance Jenkins in Picayune (Mississippi), and Matt OBrien, Providence, Rhode Island.