US feds’ COVID-19 vaccination rate on the rise but discipline for non-compliance ramps up

By on 17/01/2022 | Updated on 02/02/2022

US government agencies have reported that overall compliance with president Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate has risen, along with vaccination rates among their employees, since statistics were first released in November. However, discipline is being stepped up for workers who refuse to get the vaccine and includes dismissal.

According to the latest compliance and vaccination stats, the Department of Education has reached 100% compliance – a 1.2 percentage point uptick on November – meaning every employee is either vaccinated against COVID-19 or has a religious or medical exemption.

The National Science Foundation (NSF), meanwhile, has reached 99.9% compliance, and 10 other agencies have reported compliance rates over 99%. The Department of Homeland Security has the lowest compliance rate of the 24 major US government agencies at 96%.

In terms of vaccination rate, the NSF has recorded the highest at 98.7%. The Department of Agriculture (USDA) recorded the lowest at 88.3%.

Agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and Nuclear Regulatory Commission have seen the biggest jump in their workforce vaccination rates in recent weeks at 3% each, to 94.9% and 95.2% respectively.

Departments ramp up discipline over COVID vaccines

President Biden signed the executive order mandating all US federal workers and government contractors to get the COVID-19 vaccine or face disciplinary action in September 2021. The following month, the White House Safer Workforce Task Force set out steps agencies should take if federal employees refuse to be vaccinated or fail to provide proof of vaccination. The enforcement process includes educating reluctant feds on the benefits of vaccination, a suspension period of 14 days or less for continued non-compliance, and ultimately, “termination or removal”.

The deadline for vaccination passed on 22 November, however, the White House instructed agencies to wait until January 2022 to enforce the more severe non-compliance penalties.

The USDA – where according to Government Executive about 1,600 employees are yet to get the vaccine and do not have an exemption – is prepared to advance to the next phase of discipline but is hopeful that threat of greater punishment, including dismissal, will motivate the remaining feds to get the jab.

“As we move forward with the next steps of the enforcement process, which will involve letters proposing brief suspensions for those few still not in compliance with the vaccination requirement, we anticipate that even more of our employees will get vaccinated in the days and weeks ahead,” a spokesperson said, as reported by Government Executive. 

Agencies such as Customs and Border Protection and the Justice Department, which were prepared to move forward with suspensions in December before the White House intervened, have instead focused on their education activities. These include sending letters to non-compliant staff warning them of pending punishments, videos imploring them to think of their families and colleagues, and town hall meetings conducted by agency leaders.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) issued a vaccine mandate for its staff a month prior to Biden’s government-wide mandate and with an earlier deadline for compliance of 8 October. It started disciplining that month after it found that 30% of its 380,000-strong healthcare workforce had not met the deadline to prove their vaccination status.

VA secretary Denis McDonough said the goal of discipline is to get people vaccinated and that “the last thing we want to do is have to fire trained personnel”.

Thousands of exemption requests received  

The Departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security are understood to have received tens of thousands of exemption requests, while at the USDA more than 7,000 – about 10% of its workforce – are seeking exemption. The Department of the Interior has received 5,000 exemption requests, and NASA nearly 1,000. The vast majority of these requests have yet to be processed and employees could still face disciplinary action if exemption is denied.

“Agencies are in the process of reviewing and adjudicating exception requests,” an OMB official told Government Executive. “That process will continue to pick up pace as agency personnel return from the holidays and last week’s federal office closures due to inclement weather.”

VA’s McDonough said those seeking religious or medical exemptions could still be fired in situations where it would leave a health care facility with too few vaccinated staff and that VA had undertaken planning to mitigate the effects of a large-scale exodus of staff due to firings or staff choosing to leave their jobs.

US federal agency COVID-19 vaccination rates

AgencyAgency-wide compliance percentageAgency-wide vaccination percentage
US Department of Education100%97.0%
National Science Foundation99.9%98.7%
Department of Transportation99.7%90.7%
Department of Health and Human Services99.6%97.1%
Nuclear Regulatory Commission99.6%95.2%
Department of Commerce99.5%94.0%
Agency for International Development99.5%98.1%
Office of Personnel Management99.4%91.4%
General Services Administration99.3%93.7%
Department of State99.2%98.6%
Department of the Treasury99.0%92.0%
Small Business Administration99.0%90.2%
Social Security Administration98.9%91.5%
Department of Justice98.8%90.6%
Department of Housing and Urban Development98.7%93.8%
Department of Veterans Affairs98.7%88.5%
Department of Labor98.6%93.9%
Department of Energy98.5%91.0%
Department of Agriculture97.9%88.3%
Environmental Protection Agency97.8%94.9%
National Aeronautics and Space Administration97.4%91.5%
Department of the Interior97.2%90.2%
Department of Defense96.5%93.8%
Department of Homeland Security96.0%89.0%

About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

One Comment

  1. Tao says:

    Look at the picture. I don’t think the mask could be useful and protective on his face. It is not a good model to post in a public news.

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