Biden to Announce Vaccine Requirement for Feds

The country's largest employer is soon going to be less tolerant of the unvaccinated.

CNN (“Biden will announce vaccination requirement across federal government on Thursday“):

President Joe Biden will announce on Thursday a requirement that all federal employees and contractors be vaccinated against Covid-19, or be required to submit to regular testing and mitigation requirements, according to a source with direct knowledge of the matter.

The announcement will come in remarks where Biden is also expected to lay out a series of new steps, including incentives, in an attempt to spur new vaccinations as the Delta variant spreads rapidly throughout the country. It will also follow the decision by the Department of Veterans Affairs to require its frontline health care workers to be vaccinated over the course of the next two months.

Biden alluded to the looming announcement on Tuesday. “That’s under consideration right now,” Biden said, when asked if he would impose a vaccination mandate on federal workers.

While the specifics are still being finalized, the source said, federal workers would be required to attest to their vaccination status or submit to regular testing. The source said the proposal will be roughly similar to what is being implemented in New York City. Additional requirements for the unvaccinated could be added as agencies push to vaccinate their employees.

Biden will not impose the requirement on the US military, despite his authority to do so, for the time being. He is, however, likely to outline how the Department of Defense may seek to approach the issue going forward, the source said.

Asked if he thinks the new revised guidance on masks from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will lead to confusion for Americans, Biden cast blame on unvaccinated Americans, saying that if they had been vaccinated “we’d be in a very different world.”

“We have a pandemic because the unvaccinated and they’re sowing enormous confusion. And the more we learn about this virus and the Delta variantion, 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,” he said.

The administration’s decision to require vaccines for VA health workers provided a powerful signal that vaccine requirements could be necessary to convince the still-hesitant to get their shots.

This is, honestly, long overdue. And I must say that I’m baffled that Biden would require ordinary office workers and contractors to get the vaccine but exempt members of the armed forces; if anything, it should be the opposite. Unvaccinated troops are a major risk to readiness that far outweigh the minimal risk of complications given how long these vaccines have been tested.

That said, if we’re going to make this move, it seems that it’s also time for the FDA to expedite its approval of the two safest vaccines, Moderna and Pfizer. The current “emergency” status naturally contributes to hesitancy. Given that hundreds of millions of doses have been administered at this point, we’ve had the most robust trial imaginable.

FILED UNDER: COVID-19
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Scott says:

    Given that hundreds of millions of doses have been administered at this point, we’ve had the most robust trial imaginable.

    Why complete approval is not being expedited is a mystery to me, also. I understand being cautious but, like you said, we’ve had the trial for the drugs themselves.

    My understanding is that most of the data was in the FDA hands well before the formal request. I also understand that approval includes other issues such as manufacturing, plant inspections, and distribution. Still….

    1
  2. Barry says:

    My guess is that the FDA is anticipating a GOP inquisition in 2023 or so. Remember, the GOP is antivax at this point.

    2
  3. KM says:

    I’m betting he’s making the Pentagon issue the mandate so the GOP will have a harder time criticizing it. They’ll still do it of course but coming from Biden is one thing and coming from actual generals is another. Respect the Troops is still a mantra many hold dear and the more the GOP rips into qualified military leaders, the more on-the-fence conservatives get unhappy.

    It’s a spin angle, nothing more.

    2
  4. Kathy says:

    I feel I need to bring up a reminder: there are other countries in the world. Many of them have their own approval process for drugs and vaccines. I know of none who’ve approved any of the COVID vaccines for anything other than emergency use, or its equivalent (perhaps Russia and China, maybe Cuba with their homegrown 3-dose shot).

    4
  5. gVOR08 says:

    Certainly the FDA should give priority to vaccine approval and make sure any resource needed is promptly provided. But they must not do anything that could be characterized as cutting corners or bowing to political pressure. The GOPs will charge that approval was rushed anyway, but don’t give them any excuses. Approval has to be absolutely by the book.

    5
  6. Teve says:

    @gVOR08: yeah I’ve seen way too many liberals like Jon Lovett say things like ‘why won’t they just approve it, it’s common sense that it works!?’ Which tells me he has zero science education.

    2
  7. gVOR08 says:

    @Kathy: On a related note, Trump says we wouldn’t have had vaccines for years without his magical Project Warpspeed, and his devotees believe him. But other countries developed vaccines nearly as quickly without his special sauce.

    2
  8. Kathy says:

    @gVOR08:

    If we define the top two vaccines as regards efficacy and protection against variants, these would be Pfizer and Moderna.

    Both are US companies. However, Pfizer’s vaccine was developed by a German firm, BioNTech, which happens to be run by two Turkish immigrants.

    Oh, no! it looks like an international effort!

    Not to mention the decades of research that preceded these developments. We’ve bene talking about using genetics for therapeutics since the late 70s! R&D has involved lots of pharmaceutical companies, lots of universities, and lots and lots of government grants, in dozens of countries.

    2
  9. KM says:

    @gVOR08:
    To be fair to them, his devotees tend think of other countries like they think of Narnia or Wakanda – some nebulous Other place that exists separate from us in terms of reality and thus doesn’t count for anything. That’s why they can say USA #1 despite hard evidence on any subject. It doesn’t matter because Hyrule or the UK or Westeros aren’t “real” the same way the USA is to them. They’re never going there and only hear about it from media so it might as well all be the same place! The few that do live near a border tend to treat the other side as an extension of America we haven’t gotten around to taking over and naming as a state yet.

    2
  10. JKB says:

    Interesting the call for the FDA to take off all the safeties and issue full approval. Normally, approval takes time to see the longer term impacts. They’ve statistical methods to estimate, but that still takes data. The FDA is conditioned by the massive failure of government drug approval with Thalidomide. And the lesser failures as well. If the spiked proteins are impacting the ovaries of young women, it is doubtful the FDA will survive with any reputation at all.

    Forced vaccination is going to be a big issue. Especially since a large portion of the vaccine hesitant are in the African-American and Hispanic communities. And why are they forcing vaccines on Americans while seeding the country with infected illegal Southern border crossers. No requirement for vaccination before release from DHS custody. No efforts taken to enforce quarantine as was demonstrated in a recently located group of border crossers in CA who were suppose to be self isolating but weren’t.

    Most amusing is that cases are dropping in the UK and Netherlands whose rise started earlier, so this panic may lose its steam by the end of August.

  11. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @gVOR08: It’s important to realize that even JKB plays a role in the intellectual ecosystem that is the OtB comment threads. Just now, he fleshed out the importance of your observation for us all. It’s not all just inane prattle–even if only unintentionally.

    6
  12. Michael Cain says:

    @Scott:

    Why complete approval is not being expedited is a mystery to me, also. I understand being cautious but, like you said, we’ve had the trial for the drugs themselves.

    The FDA is required to do manufacturing and distribution analyses, including extensive site inspections, for full approval. Both Moderna and BioNTech were futzing with their manufacturing and distribution methods right up until they made their formal applications for full licenses. Also, IIRC, both of the supply chains run through foreign countries, which may be problematic. I have been told this part normally takes the FDA a year, and is a limiting factor in the six-month expedited process.

    J&J’s having to toss 60M doses because of manufacturing problems under the EUA didn’t do anyone any favors either.

    1
  13. JohnSF says:

    @JKB:

    …cases are dropping in the UK…

    True, but somewhat misleading.
    The most recent complete rolling 5 day new cases figure, for 22 July was 30,598.
    Down from a peak of 60,670 on 15 July.
    But still higher than at any point since last January.
    It is not yet over; the very good news is the combination of vaccination and school closed for summer seems to be braking he climb, and hospitalisations and deaths are still way down.

    With the caveat, we have yet to see the impact of the recent peak on severe cases, and the effect on transmission of the recent easing of restrictions.

    From a US perspective, the trouble with taking the UK a model is we have 88.3% with at least one dose, and 71.1% double-jabbed.
    IIRC comparable figures for the US are 56% 1 jab, 49% single.

    You need higher rates before the Delta variant wave really slams into you.

    1
  14. Andy says:

    And I must say that I’m baffled that Biden would require ordinary office workers and contractors to get the vaccine but exempt members of the armed forces; if anything, it should be the opposite. Unvaccinated troops are a major risk to readiness that far outweigh the minimal risk of complications given how long these vaccines have been tested.

    Except ordinary office workers aren’t being required to get the vaccine. Read the first sentence you quoted again (emphasis added):

    President Joe Biden will announce on Thursday a requirement that all federal employees and contractors be vaccinated against Covid-19, or be required to submit to regular testing and mitigation requirements…

    There is no vaccine mandate – what the VA did and what Biden is considering in simply changing the requirements for those who choose not to get vaccinated. That’s because a vaccine mandate is illegal under federal law – a fact I’ve pointed out a few times here since January. What’s happening instead is that people who refuse to get vaccinated must undergo extra testing, or limit their exposure (ie. mitigation requirements). Extra testing and mitigation are legal – forcing people to take an unlicensed vaccine against their consent is not. This is really very simple.

    And it’s also nothing new. This is the standard procedure that is currently in place in elder care facilities – at least in my state – and has been this way for months. Staff who choose to go unvaccinated are required to get additional testing and take additional mitigation measures. The only thing that’s “new” here is that the federal government is finally getting around to what state and local health departments have been doing for some time now.

    And yes, amazing as it may seem, you can still have unvaccinated staff working at elder care facilities around the most vulnerable population and the reason is that it is – again – illegal to mandate a vaccine (or any medicine) that isn’t licensed and approved by the FDA. Firing them for not getting the vaccine is similarly illegal. Unlicensed vaccines require advice and consent. The roots of the law on this go way back to the Nuremberg Code and the Belmont Report.

    Secondly, this same law about advice and consent applies to military personnel so ordering military members to take the vaccine is – by definition – an unlawful order.

    There is a provision in title 10 (link here) that provides an exception. Note that “investigational” is the legal euphemism for any unlicensed vaccine, drug, etc.:

    (1)In the case of the administration of an investigational new drug or a drug unapproved for its applied use to a member of the armed forces in connection with the member’s participation in a particular military operation, the requirement that the member provide prior consent to receive the drug in accordance with the prior consent requirement imposed under section 505(i)(4) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (21 U.S.C. 355(i)(4)) may be waived only by the President. The President may grant such a waiver only if the President determines, in writing, that obtaining consent is not in the interests of national security.

    (2)The waiver authority provided in paragraph (1) shall not be construed to apply to any case other than a case in which prior consent for administration of a particular drug is required by reason of a determination by the Secretary of Health and Human Services that such drug is subject to the investigational new drug requirements of section 505(i) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

    Now, why hasn’t Pres. Biden done this?

    Let’s leave aside the possibility of political cowardice and focus on the merits. I’m not a lawyer, but maybe it’s the limiting language of “member’s participation in a particular military operation…” which hints at the origin of this provision which is rooted in chem and biowarfare defense (the relevant sections in Title 21 talk about this specifically). Secondly, there is the legal history of the Anthrax vaccine which the Bush administration sought to mandate in the early oughts and was shut down by the courts until the Anthrax vaccine was formally approved for the desired use. The Biden administration surely understands if they invoke this provision, ignore the intent of the “particular military operation” language and apply the mandate to all service members, that there will be litigation, just as there was with Anthrax. And maybe they’ve concluded their legal case would not be a strong one.

    So, in summary, there isn’t an easy way to end-run any of this. People need to stop engaging in wishful thinking and understand that there is no way to mandate this vaccine without either changing the law, or until the vaccines are fully licensed by the FDA. Congress is too full of political cowards for the former, and vagaries of the federal bureaucracy and APA rulemaking are going to make the latter slower than it should be.

    5
  15. Kathy says:

    I hate short, imprecise items for important news. Nevertheless, Pfizer reports a drop in efficacy for its vaccine after six months.

    Now, my first question is: against what? The vaccine trials were against the viral mix (original and variants) in circulation at the time. Since then new variants have emerged. The piece does not say.

    Second, the implication is that this is data from following volunteers from the phase 3 trial. This is good, but the piece does not say how they tested efficacy. new infections in the volunteers, antibody volume, something else?

    As I said, I hate short, imprecise items.

    An efficacy if 84% is still great, if a large enough percentage of the population is vaccinated. Seeing how this is not happening in most countries, even those that have excess vaccine doses, then the drop is a major concern.

    I should plan a trip to San Antonio or Houston in January to get a third shot of Pfizer. Or perhaps Moderna, as it seems to hold up better for some reason (I thought both basically used the same mRNA segment).

  16. Jax says:

    @Kathy: I’m interested in the studies they’ve been doing with switching manufacturer shots as a booster. I got Moderna, but now all public health offers is Pfizer and J&J. I’m curious as to whether combinations are more effective as a booster.

  17. Kathy says:

    @Jax:

    I think in the UK they mixed first and second shots of at least Pfizer and AstraZeneca, largely as a way to give as many people as possible at least one dose. the thing is they also delayed the second dose according to availability. So, more variables.

    J&J is trialing a second shot, Pfizer a third shot, and there’s talk of a Pfizer Delta variant specific vaccine.

    It’s complicated.

    I figure a third dose won’t hurt. I hope by January we’ll know a bit more.

  18. Jax says:

    @Kathy: I’d like to get my teenager a booster shot before school starts, she’s determined to go back to school for her junior year, but I am still soooooo paranoid about it with her respiratory issues. 😐

  19. Mimai says:

    @Jax:

    You may have already seen this, but here’s a good review of the latest evidence on mixing and matching.

    1
  20. Jax says:

    @Mimai: Thanks, that was informative!

    1
  21. Mimai says:

    @Jax:

    No problem, no worries, sure thing, and you’re welcome!

    1
  22. Jax says:

    @Mimai: Ha! I was considering what your answer would be when I wrote it. 😉 There’s always an interesting little tidbit in the threads around here, somewhere.

    1
  23. HarvardLaw92 says:

    A step in the right direction, but as proposed it’s essentially meaningless – because it depends on self-attestation rather than affirmative validation to establish vaccinated status.

    Those opposed will undoubtedly simply lie about their vaccination status, and that derails the entire goal.

  24. KM says:

    @Kathy:
    Honestly, as long as it keeps the hospitalization rates down I don’t care if it drops to 50%. Maybe if COVID becomes the “OMG you’re down for two weeks every winter because you can’t breathe at all” disease that everybody gets, we might see more shots in arms. Right now, people are gambling they won’t be the unlucky 8% that get hospitalized or die. If it becomes the disease you *will* get and suffer from but the shot makes it so you’re likely not gonna be miserable for weeks, we’d see more movement.

    It’s gonna sound weird but if COVID had a more prominent unpleasant aspect such as explosive diarrhea, we’d have seen less denial and vax rejection. Something where when you’re sick, you’re *sick* and there’s no avoiding it. If the choice was living on the toilet for days or a simply shot, the choice would be a lot clearer for many.