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Biden urges vaccine mandates for 100 million U.S. staff

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U.S. President Joe Biden will hold a

Brendan Smialowski | AFP | Getty Images

President Joe Biden on Thursday strictly outlined a comprehensive plan to increase Covid-19 vaccination rates in the US as the cases were on a plateau at dangerously high rates, pressuring private employers to immunize their workforce and get the vaccinations for Require federal employees, contractors, and healthcare workers.

The country reports an average of 151,500 new cases per day, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, hovering around levels recorded at the end of January. An average of 1,500 people die from Covid every day in the US, almost the death rate last seen in March when the US recovered from its winter surge, Hopkins data shows.

“Although we have an unprecedented and successful vaccination program, despite the fact that free vaccines have been available in 80,000 different locations for nearly five months, we still have nearly 80 million Americans who haven’t got the vaccination,” said Biden, who apparently frustrated with the nation’s slow progress on vaccines.

While vaccination rates have picked up pace in the past few weeks as the Delta variant sparked a spike in cases, they remain a fraction of what they were in the first few months of the vaccine launch. The U.S. has Biden’s July 4th goal of vaccinating 70% of adults by nearly a month, and has since given only 75.3% of Americans ages 18 and over since then, according to CDC data. Just over 54% of the US population is fully vaccinated.

In a speech to the nation, the president tabled a six-part plan that aims to vaccinate more people, allow schools to reopen safely, increase testing, improve patient care, and promote economic recovery.

Biden said he was no longer patient waiting for unvaccinated Americans to get their vaccinations.

“What is there to wait? What else do you need to see? We made vaccinations free, safe and convenient. The vaccine has FDA approval, and over 200 million Americans have had at least one vaccination, ”said Biden. “We have been patient, but our patience is deteriorating and the refusal has cost us all.

As part of the plan, the president announced a new requirement for federal employees to receive a Covid vaccine without the option of regular testing. He also signed an executive order that extends the requirement to contractors who work with the U.S. government, affecting a total of 2.1 million employees. Biden had previously directed all federal employees to prove their coronavirus vaccination status or to undergo a number of strict security protocols.

Biden also said he is asking the U.S. Department of Labor to enact a rule requiring employers with more than 100 employees to prescribe vaccines or, according to officials, require weekly tests.

“This requirement will affect over 80 million workers in private sector companies with more than 100 employees,” the labor protection agency said in a statement. The agency, which reports to the Ministry of Labor, is developing an emergency rule that requires these employers to give paid leave for vaccinations or to recover from the side effects of the syringes.

Major U.S. companies have increasingly mandated vaccines or announced penalties for workers who are not vaccinated since the rise in Covid cases this summer. United Airlines will require all workers to be vaccinated this fall, while Americans and Alaska employees who are not vaccinated warned they could lose their wage protection.

Healthcare workers receiving Medicare and Medicaid funding must also be fully vaccinated against Covid.

In total, the new vaccination regulations will cover about 100 million workers, affecting two-thirds of U.S. workers, Biden said.

As part of the plan to fight Covid, the government is increasing the average weekly pace of deliveries of free monoclonal antibody treatments for Covid by 50%, Biden said. More than 800,000 cans were shipped in July and August, a senior administration said in a call on Thursday.

The Transportation Security Administration also plans to double the fines for travelers who refuse to follow a state mask mandate for air travel, a senior Biden administration official said. Fines will soon start at $ 500 and go up to $ 3,000 for repeat offenders.

Biden also urged all schools to set up regular testing for under-vaccinated students, faculty and staff if Covid spreads in a community.

The Department of Education will provide additional funding to help local school districts replenish salaries and other funds if they have been withheld by heads of state for implementing Covid security measures, according to a senior administrative official.

The plan also provides for $ 2 billion to be allocated to the production of 280 million rapid Covid tests and at home under the Defense Production Act. The plan expands the federal government’s free Covid test program to 10,000 pharmacies nationwide and provides community health centers and food banks with 25 million free rapid tests for distribution.

Private companies will also be handing out discounted tests: Walmart, Amazon and Kroger will start selling Covid tests at home “for the next three months at their own expense,” senior administration officials said. The discount is intended to make the tests 35% cheaper for consumers.

“Together, these steps will ensure that every American, regardless of income, has access to free and convenient testing,” officials said.

Despite the government’s nationwide push for Covid vaccinations, just over 176 million Americans, or 53.3% of the total population, are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The government has already announced its plans to give Covid vaccine booster shots later this month to those eight months after their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. White House senior medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday that the US will likely begin widely distributing third Pfizer shots by the week of September 20, but the rollout of Moderna could be delayed.

The Biden government has also encouraged private companies to implement vaccine mandates, despite CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky previously told CNBC that federal officials would not give a nationwide mandate.

– CNBC’s Amanda Macias, Leslie Josephs and Nate Rattner contributed to this report.

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