Joe Biden Gonna Vax You Up (A Tick-Tock, Ya Don't Stop-Stop). Also Masks.
President Joe Biden formally announced a vaccine mandate for all federal workers yesterday, along with other measures aimed at getting more shots into arms, overcoming vaccine resistance, and controlling the spread of the coronavirus, which is surging again in areas with low vaccination rates because the Delta variant is far more infectious than the original strain of the virus that emerged in 2019. Most federal workers will be required to sign a form stating that they've received the vaccine; those who don't will be required to wear masks in the workplace and stay socially distanced, and to be tested at least weekly for the virus. Biden said he also hoped private employers would put in place their own vaccine requirements as well.
In a speech announcing the new policy, which will also include incentives to encourage vaccinations, Biden urged Americans to listen to the science and take steps to protect themselves, their families, and their communities. Biden began the address removing a face mask and noting that, under the new masking guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control, he wouldn't have to be wearing one if he were in an area with a lower rate of community spread, like his home county in Delaware or in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, where he spoke Wednesday. It was a pretty effective visual. Here's the full speech:
Biden reprised his role of president as truth-teller, even when the truths aren't all that pleasant, emphasizing that the science is the science, and we need to pay attention to it:
From the moment I was elected, I said I'd always give it to you straight from the shoulder, and we need some straight talk right now. Because there's a lot of fear and misinformation in the country, and we need to cut through it with facts, with science, with the truth. [...]
After months and months of cases going down, we're seeing a spike in COVID cases. They're going up. Why? Because of this new form, this new variant called the "Delta variant."
This is a much different variant than the one we dealt with previously. It's highly transmissible, and it's causing a new wave of cases in those who are not vaccinated.
That far higher virulence, he explained, was behind the CDC's recommendation that everyone, vaccinated or not, wear masks indoors in public in areas with "substantial" or "high" levels of community transmission of the virus.
Biden also emphasized that the most effective thing Americans can do to prevent the virus from spiking out of control again is to get vaccinated, because fully vaccinated people have a far lower chance of becoming infected, becoming so ill they need to be hospitalized, or dying. But he also acknowledged that no vaccine provides 100 percent protection, which is why "breakthrough" infections are happening among people who are fully vaccinated.
He also noted that, as of now, it doesn't appear that people will need booster shots for additional protection, but again, he acknowledged that could change:
No American needs a booster now. But if the science tells us there's a need for boosters, then that's something we'll do. And we have purchased the supply — all the supply we need to be ready if that was called for.
Biden also made an emotional plea for people to look at the evidence and see that the vaccines really are safe and effective, and to get vaccinated:
This is an American tragedy. 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 and you'll see stories about unvaccinated patients in hospitals. As they're lying in bed, dying from COVID-19, they're asking, "Doc, can I get the vaccine?" And the doctors have to say, "Sorry, it's too late."
Right now, too many people are dying or watching someone they love dying and saying, "If I just got vaccinated, if I just…" It's heartbreaking. And it's complicated even more because it's preventable.
He also thanked Republican leaders like Mitch McConnell for their support of vaccination efforts, and noted that the vaccine is as bipartisan as you can get, having been "developed and authorized under a Republican administration, and has been distributed and administered under a Democratic administration."
As for the actual vaccination mandate: The AP reports that the new guidelines will apply not only to those directly employed by the federal government — about four million people — but also to an estimated seven million employees of federal contractors, and people in jobs funded by federal grants.
The AP also notes that, if you want to get all technical about it, since there's the option to go unvaccinated and be masked and tested a lot,
administration officials emphasize that their plan does not require workers to receive the vaccine but aims to make life more difficult for those who are unvaccinated to encourage them to comply. Biden directed his team to take steps to apply similar requirements to all federal contractors.
As for the military, Biden's directive as announced only affects civilian employees, but he also directed the Pentagon to consider adding the COVID vaccine to the big bunch of vaccines it already requires for all 1.5 million of the active-duty service members. The Army Times reports the Pentagon is already on it:
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will begin consulting military medical professionals, as well as the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to "determine how and when to make recommendations to President Joe Biden" about adding the COVID-19 vaccines to the full list of requirements for military personnel, the Pentagon announced Thursday evening. [...]
"The Department of Defense is moving quickly to meet President Biden's commitment to defeat COVID-19, and that includes being able to ensure every member of our civilian and military workforce is protected," Jamal Brown, deputy Pentagon press secretary, said in a statement. "In accordance with the guidance the President issued today, all military and civilian DoD personnel will be asked to attest to their vaccination status. Personnel unable or unwilling to do that will be required to wear a mask, physically distance, comply with a regular testing requirement and be subject to official travel restrictions."
Seems like an excellent chance to put inter-service rivalry to a good use. At the end of June, the Defense Department reported that active duty members of the Navy have the highest rate of vaccination, with 77 percent of personnel having received at least one dose. The Army is close behind, at 70 percent, while those slackers in the Air Force and the Marine Corps are at just 61 percent and 58 percent respectively.
Seems only natural the Navy would be best prepared to fight a dangerous respiratory infection. It knows all about swabs.
In addition to the not-quite mandate, Biden also announced other incentives to boost vaccinations, like an initiative to give states and local governments money to pay people $100 to get vaccinated, as well as a reimbursement program for businesses that give employees time off to get the shots. Biden noted in his speech that people who have already gotten vaccinated may find that a little unfair, since they already did the right thing.
But here's the deal, if incentives help us beat this virus, I believe we should use them. We all benefit if we can get more people vaccinated.
OK, fine. But how about if we show our vaccination cards and get our student loans forgiven? All I want is what's coming to me. All I want is my fair share!
[White House / AP / Army Times / CDC community spread map]
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