WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden plans to require all federal employees get vaccinated against COVID-19 and announce vaccination requirements for private companies that get government contracts which could affect millions more employees.
With COVID-19 cases surging among the unvaccinated, Biden will also lay out new steps schools and workplaces can take to mitigate the spread of the virus in a 5 p.m. ET (2100 GMT) speech.
Biden will sign an executive order on Thursday that applies to some four million U.S. government workers.
He will also announce new vaccine requirements for private companies that get government contracts, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.
Any such requirements could affect millions more employees, including workers at hospitals that get government contracts to treat patients on Medicaid or Medicare, social welfare programs for the poor, buy cheap prednisone online disabled and older Americans.
“Our overarching objective here is to reduce the number of unvaccinated Americans,” she said, noting that 80 million still have not been vaccinated.
“We want to reduce that number, decrease hospitalizations and deaths and allow our children to go to school safely.”
Federal workers unions suggested they would accept the vaccine mandate on Thursday.
Federal workers will have a 75-day “ramp up” period to get vaccinated, and then be referred to human resources for counseling and possible disciplinary action, Psaki said.
Despite a full-throttled campaign by the Biden administration urging all eligible Americans to get the free vaccines, just over 53% of Americans are fully vaccinated, according to date from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The disease has killed more than 654,000 people in the United States, and deaths and hospitalizations have been rising sharply as the easily transmissible Delta variant of the virus spreads. tmsnrt.rs/3A1KHg3
In July, Biden said federal workers had to get vaccinated or face regular COVID-19 testing and other restrictions like mandatory face covering at workplaces.
Biden’s speech also will cover increasing testing and mask-wearing, protecting the economic recovery from the pandemic-induced recession, and improving healthcare for people infected with COVID-19, Psaki said.
“He’s going to speak directly to vaccinated people and their frustration, and he wants them to hear how we’re going to build on what we’ve done to date to get the virus under control and to return to some version of normal in this country,” she said.
The White House COVID recovery plans here, and the projected U.S. economic rebound were based on the vast majority of eligible Americans being vaccinated this year. But the public health issue has become politicized, with a vocal minority refusing the shots and mask mandates, arguing that they are an infringement on their individual rights.
COUNTRY ‘STILL IN PANDEMIC MODE’
The spread of the Delta variant has raised concerns as children head back to school, while also rattling investors, upending company return-to-office plans, and tamping down here hiring.
With 160,000 new infections a day, the country is “still in pandemic mode … That’s not even modestly good control,” Biden’s chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told Axios.
“You’ve got to get well below 10,000 (a day) before you start feeling comfortable,” Fauci added.
The White House plans to offer booster shots providing additional protection to those who are fully vaccinated. That goes against arguments from the World Health Organization and other advocates that say with global vaccine supplies limited, rich countries should pause booster programs until more people worldwide are inoculated.
But with Delta causing more symptomatic breakthrough infections among fully inoculated individuals, most vaccinated Americans want a booster, a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll found.
Psaki told MSNBC the White House wants COVID-19 tests to be easier to obtain.
Abbott Laboratories and other test manufacturers are trying to boost production here as cases soar, after having scaled back in recent months. CVS Health Corp recently imposed limits on the number of at-home tests customers can buy.
The White House said the federal government cannot mandate vaccines nationwide, but it has encouraged school districts, businesses and other entities to require shots.
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