Majority of US federal employees disagree with COVID-19 vaccine mandate, survey finds

By on 10/11/2021 | Updated on 10/11/2021
Nearly a third of survey respondents said they thought the vaccine mandate would be ineffective. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Enjoli Saunders, U.S. Air National Guard via Flickr

More than half of US federal employees said in a recent survey they strongly or somewhat disagreed with the Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

The mandate came into effect after President Joe Biden signed an executive order in September requiring all federal employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by 22 November.

In the survey – conducted by the Government Business Council, the research arm of Government Executive (GovExec) – 53% of the 3,186 respondents said they “strongly or somewhat disagreed” with the mandate, while 44% “strongly or somewhat agreed” with it. 

“It should be a choice not a mandate, last I knew this was a free country,” one survey respondent wrote, according to GovExec.

Less than half (42%) of respondents said they thought the mandate would be “very or extremely effective” in protecting the federal workforce against coronavirus, and 30% said they thought the vaccine mandate would be “slightly or moderately effective”. Nearly a third (29%) said they thought the mandate would be ineffective.

Fears of false exemption claims

The White House stated that workers must have received their single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine or the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine no later than 8 November to meet the 22 November deadline. As such, agencies could begin disciplining feds who have not complied with the mandate on Tuesday.  

Guidance released last month outlined the enforcement process, which includes counselling, suspension, and ultimately dismissal.

“I will retire from federal service if I am threatened with discipline/firing,” one survey respondent wrote, as reported by GovExec.   

Another survey respondent warned that federal workers seeking to dodge the vaccine could easily make false exemption claims – the mandate allows for exceptions on certain religious and medical grounds – undermining the mandate’s effectiveness.

A third voiced concern about the risk unvaccinated colleagues posed to their health, adding that colleagues taken ill as a result of refusing the jab could create excessive work for the vaccinated, and increase the cost of employees’ Federal Employees Health Benefits or Medicare.

“A coworker’s choice not to be vaccinated increases my potential exposure to COVID [and] potentially increases my workload if I have to cover for them if they are out ill,” they said.

Power brokers and pawns

A closer look at how attitudes varied by region showed the Washington D.C. metropolitan area contained the highest concentration of approval (54%) for the mandate among federal employees. Respondents based in the Southwest most disapprove.

One respondent accused “D.C. power brokers” of treating federal employees as “pawns”.

Overall, results showed disapproval of the mandate was stronger among federal employees who work in the office at least one day a week than among those working from home full time.

The survey was conducted between 27 October and 2 November. Most of the respondents “currently work for a federal agency but the results did include some retirees and congressional and private sector workers,” GovExec said.   

The vaccine mandate also applies to US federal government contractors and is expected to impact tens of millions of workers. White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said the “overarching objective” of the mandate is to reduce the number of unvaccinated Americans, which stood at around 80 million in October 2021.

About Jack Aldane

Jack is a British journalist, cartoonist and podcaster. He graduated from Heythrop College London in 2009 with a BA in philosophy, before living and working in China for three years as a freelance reporter. After training in financial journalism at City University from 2013 to 2014, Jack worked at Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters before moving into editing magazines on global trade and development finance. Shortly after editing opinion writing for UnHerd, he joined the independent think tank ResPublica, where he led a media campaign to change the health and safety requirements around asbestos in UK public buildings. As host and producer of The Booking Club podcast – a conversation series featuring prominent authors and commentators at their favourite restaurants – Jack continues to engage today’s most distinguished thinkers on the biggest problems pertaining to ideology and power in the 21st century. He joined Global Government Forum as its Senior Staff Writer and Community Co-ordinator in 2021.


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