Biden considers mandatory vaccination for federal employees

By on 28/07/2021 | Updated on 28/07/2021
US President Joe Biden is eyeing plans to require federal employees to have a COVID-19 vaccine. Credit: Gage Skidmore /Wikimedia

US President Joe Biden is considering plans to require all US federal employees to have a COVID-19 vaccination.

When asked on Tuesday whether he would introduce such a mandate, Biden said “that’s under consideration right now.” The president is expected to elaborate further in remarks on Thursday concerning measures designed to increase vaccination rates, according to US media.

A source told CNN that under the plans, federal workers and contractors would either need to get a COVID-19 vaccine or undergo testing and mitigation measures.

This follows a similar move earlier this week by the Veteran Affairs Department in the US, which announced it would require vaccines for all healthcare staff within the next two months. It was the first federal agency to make such a move.

If the vaccination mandate is confirmed, it will mark a significant intervention in the global debate around compulsory vaccination, and the balance between personal freedoms and public health.

US hesitancy

Vaccine hesitancy is a bigger problem in the US relative to many comparable countries.

According to a recent Morning Consult poll, 30% of US adults are either unwilling or uncertain about getting the COVID-19 vaccine. This was the third highest rate among 15 countries surveyed, behind only Russia and Australia.

Biden’s mooted mandate would capture a number of Americans: the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) notes that the civilian federal workforce comprises 2.1 million people.

According to CNN, Biden is expected not to include the military in his mandate, though he may outline how the Department of Defense could approach the issue.

Biden has received assurances from Justice Department lawyers, CNN reported. A recently published opinion from the Office of Legal Counsel argued that the law “does not prohibit public or private entities from imposing vaccination requirements for a vaccine that is subject to an emergency use authorisation.”

Earlier in the vaccine rollout, there had been reports of some federal workers refusing vaccinations. For example, Bureau of Prisons director Michael Carvajal told Congress at a hearing in March that half his workforce had declined the jab, according to FCW.

A global conversation

If confirmed, Biden’s mandate would be wider ranging than measures taken in most countries. But other governments have taken steps to force frontline workers into vaccination, or are considering doing so.

The UK has mandated vaccinations for workers care homes – including those employed directly, through an agency or even volunteers and hairdressers.

In Saudi Arabia, the government decreed in May that all workers — in any sector, including government — would need to get a vaccination to return to work.

And the mayor of Moscow, Russia, has required two million workers, including some health staff, to do the same. Businesses will be closely watched to ensure compliance.

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