WASHINGTON, Sept. 14 — U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday announced that the Department of Labor is developing an emergency rule to require all employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their workers are either vaccinated or tested once a week.
“Next, I will sign an executive order that will now require all executive branch federal employees to be vaccinated — all. And I’ve signed another executive order that will require federal contractors to do the same,” Biden said.
The president’s vaccine mandate is immediately blasted by Republicans, who are calling the plans “unconstitutional.” Unions are questioning the mandate, and legal challenges could follow.
REPUBLICANS SEE OPPORTUNITY
“My job as president is to protect all Americans,” said Biden. While the nation is attempting to resume normal life, the Delta variant is still wreaking havoc with some people who refuse to get a jab.
As of Aug. 30, around 1.6 million Americans were hospitalized with the coronavirus, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Of those, only 0.65 percent were people who had been fully vaccinated, according to CDC data.
At issue is that many Americans believe the decision to get vaccinated should be a personal one, not a government mandate. If a person wants to risk illness and possible death, that’s their business, many argue.
Republicans see the issue as an opportunity to appeal to their staunchest supporters.
Biden is “forcing an unconstitutional, un-American federal decree on businesses and families. His agenda is all about power, all about control, and meant to divide us,” said Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel.
Many Republican governors have publicly opposed Biden’s vaccine mandate since it was announced, and some have already vowed legal actions.
The White House is “hammering down on private businesses and individual freedoms in an unprecedented and dangerous way,” Governor of Arizona Doug Ducey tweeted.
Meanwhile, the largest labor union in the United States is also asking questions.
While acknowledging “it is the best way for us to protect each other in the workplace,” President of the American Federation of Government Employees Everett Kelley emphasized that “workers deserve a voice in their working conditions.”
The mandate will impact much of the U.S. business community, said Clay Ramsay, a researcher at the center for international and security studies at the University of Maryland.
“Every firm that contracts with the federal government or would like to do so in future will have to comply,” Ramsay said.
It’s estimated that over two-thirds of all U.S. jobs are in companies with over 100 employees, Ramsay noted.
The U.S. Supreme Court has not yet weighed in, although Justice Amy Coney Barrett recently rejected a request to ban a university’s vaccine mandate.
However, there have been other successful lawsuits against measures the White House said were aimed at public health.
A federal appeals court over the summer rejected CDC-imposed restrictions on cruise ships. Some experts said the ruling underscored courts’ willingness to place restrictions on government public health mandates.
Biden’s mandate is a sharp reversal from previous statements from Democrats. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in April that the government “cannot require someone to be vaccinated.” White House press secretary Jen Psaki on July 25 said forcing vaccinations is “not the role of the federal government.”
The New York Times reported that experts seem split on how effective Biden’s plan will be.
Georges C. Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, warned that Americans opposed to vaccination might dig in and bristle at being told what to do, the New York Times reported.
The American Hospital Association was cautious, warning that the moves “may result in exacerbating the severe work force shortage problems,” as reported in the New York Times.
Some private firms have already imposed their own vaccine mandates. But other companies are reluctant to do so, on fears of worker backlash.
Naomi Ross, an office manager in her 40s in the DC area, told Xinhua that people should not be forced to get the vaccine. She has been vaccinated, and got the jab the very day it became available to her, the manager said.
Polls show that those who reject the vaccine are more worried about possible side effects of the vaccine than they are about COVID-19. Social media are also rife with conspiracy theories about the vaccine.
As of Monday, over 178 million Americans, or 53.8 percent of the U.S. population, have been fully inoculated.
Vaccine mandates are nothing new in the United States. School children in many U.S. states are required to get vaccinated against measles, chicken pox, polio, and hepatitis B.
Opponents of COVID-19 vaccine mandates said those vaccines have a long history of use, whereas some parents do not trust the coronavirus vaccines because they are so new. (Xinhua)