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Joe Biden To Personally Jam Vaccines Down Federal Employees' Throats If He Has To
Don't make him come down there, you.
As part of the push to stop the COVID-19 Delta variant before it powers an even worse wave of infection and deaths, President Joe Biden plans to announce tomorrow that all federal employees will need to be vaccinated or to be tested regularly for the virus. That's according to a "source with direct knowledge of the matter," as CNN puts it; the Washington Post has essentially the same story , but attributed to a "White House official" speaking on the QT, and who may or may not be the same person.
The vaccine mandate for federal employees is among several steps the administration is taking to increase vaccination rates. CNN says that package will also include incentives , which is good, because apparently people need better reasons to get vaccinated than merely protecting themselves, their families, and their communities from a deadly virus that has now mutated into a far more transmissible variant.
The specifics of how the new mandate will work are still being finalized, although in broad terms it sounds a lot like the vaccine mandates being put in place in New York City and in California : Employees will need to show proof that they're fully vaccinated, or they'll need to be tested for the virus regularly, and, if it works like California's, unvaccinated workers may have to wear masks or other PPE if they work with the public. The Post notes that a second administration official said that "nothing is final until Biden announces it and the plan could change, adding that a policy review is underway."
On Monday, the Department of Veterans Affairs announcedthat it would begin requiring vaccinations for staff working at all VA medical facilities, as well as for VA personnel who visit those facilities or otherwise provide care to folks receiving VA services, so it's not terribly surprising Biden would order a similar mandate government-wide. At the moment, the sources say Biden won't be extending the order to military personnel, but that could change. The Defense Department already "encourages" all personnel to get vaccinated, but Biden would have the authority to make that an actual order.
But wait! What about the people who are saying the government and businesses can't mandate the COVID vaccines until they're fully authorized for use by the Food and Drug Administration? Turns out, nope, that shouldn't get in the way of vaccine requirements, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which issued recommendations in May stating that vaccines can be required for on-site workers, as long as the requirements comply with existing civil rights law and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
That legal guidance was boosted by a Justice Department memo released Monday, although it was dated July 6. The opinion, by DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel , looked closely at the 2003 law that established the category of "emergency use authorizations" (EUA) and determined that the law "does not prohibit public or private entities from imposing vaccination requirements for vaccines that are subject to EUAs." All the law states is that recipients of the vaccines be advised that they have the "option to accept or refuse" the virus, not that the safety of drugs or treatments approved under an EUA is suspect, or that the authorization is based on insufficient evidence. It's an authorization, doofus, the OLC opinion did not say, although that's the upshot.
In addition to the "accept or refuse" bit, the law directs that people getting the treatment be informed of "significant known and potential benefits and risks," and the "extent to which such benefits and risks are unknown," as well as letting them know the treatment has been approved by the FDA for use in a public health emergency.
CNN notes that while there have been two federal lawsuits that attempted to argue the EUA means the vaccines can't be mandated, those arguments haven't carried any weight with judges. CNN also reports that the OLC opinion comes as
Justice Department officials have been weighing requests from private businesses and federal agencies seeking legal backing for policies aimed at encouraging vaccinations, according to people briefed on the matter.
This is a big reversal from the William Barr DOJ, which actively sought to overturn state public health orders limiting in-person church attendance during the pandemic.
Also too, Biden didn't have a lot of patience yesterday when he was asked if the CDC risked confusing Americans with its new mask guidance . The CDC now recommends that all people, vaccinated or not, mask up in areas with "substantial" or "high" levels of COVID-19 transmission. Biden was pretty clear about where he thinks the blame for any confusion lies:
We have a pandemic because the unvaccinated and they're sowing enormous confusion. And the more we learn about this virus and the Delta variation, the more we have to be worried and concerned. And there's only one thing we know for sure, if those other hundred million people got vaccinated, we'd be in a very different world.
The Post points out that Biden isn't wasting any time putting the new CDC guidance into effect at the White House, either. Since Washington DC has a "substantial" level of community spread, the White House sent an email to all staff yesterday afternoon "requiring everyone, regardless of vaccination status, to wear masks while on the premises, effective immediately."
A president who actually follows the rules he wants others to follow? We're still getting used to it, but it seems like a good idea!
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