United States President Joe Biden speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington on July 29, 2021 about the pace of vaccination against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the United States.
Evelyn Hockstein | Reuters
“This is not about red and blue states. It’s literally a matter of life and death, ”he said. “With freedom comes responsibility. Your choice to be unvaccinated affects others.”
The new rules and perks come as officials at all levels of government battle to bolster Covid vaccination rates, which have flattened in recent weeks, even as the highly transmissible Delta variant spreads nationwide.
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Some state and regional leaders have already introduced new vaccination protocols. California and New York announced earlier this week that they will require either vaccination or mandatory weekly Covid tests from most state employees.
Washington, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser re-introduced the requirement that masks be worn indoors early Thursday, a measure that had been lifted months earlier as new cases and deaths from Covid declined.
Some large private companies such as Facebook and Google also require employees in the US to be vaccinated when they return to work.
In its own buildings, according to a White House leaflet, the federal government requires that every employee and contractor “confirms” or confirms their vaccination status on site.
Those who don’t will have to wear a mask to work regardless of their location and have to take Covid tests once or twice a week, the White House said.
In addition, they must physically distance themselves from all other employees and visitors and, according to the factsheet, may be subject to restrictions on official travel activities.
“It is an American blessing that we have vaccines for every single American,” said Biden on Thursday afternoon. “It is a shame to waste this blessing.”
Biden also announced that a Covid reimbursement program that is reimbursing small and medium-sized businesses that have offered paid vacations to their employees to vaccinate will be expanded to include family members and children of employees.
And Biden urged school districts across the country to host pop-up vaccination clinics in the coming weeks and instructed federal pharmacy program partners to work with schools.
In his speech, Biden repeatedly stressed that despite rising cases, the vaccines continue to be highly effective in saving lives and preventing serious illnesses from Covid, including the Delta variant. He noted that the overwhelming majority of people hospitalized and killed with the virus had not been vaccinated and described the current crisis as a “pandemic of the unvaccinated”.
Biden also tried to allay fears of so-called breakthrough infections in vaccinated people by saying that such cases are rare. He added that medical officials are currently saying that fully vaccinated people don’t need a booster vaccination – although he suggested that this could change in the future.
“The vaccines are safe and highly effective. They have nothing political about them, ”said Biden, underscoring the point by praising Kentucky Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell for his consistent support for vaccinations.
“And he’s in pretty good shape,” added Biden.
The Biden administration had previously advised federal agencies not to require vaccinations for field work.
The president also announced in May: “Those who are vaccinated do not have to wear a mask.”
However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reversed their guidelines on wearing masks indoors, recommending wearing them in places with high rates of Covid transmission. Biden, who is fully vaccinated, said he would follow the agency’s recommendations.