President Joe Biden on Thursday defended the move to issue sweeping vaccine mandates for federal contractors, healthcare workers, and private-sector employees.
The Department of Labor issued a vaccine-or-test requirement to tens of millions of private-sector employees at workplaces with 100 or more workers with a Jan. 4 deadline, which has sparked concerns of worker shortages in key industries amid supply-chain bottlenecks. Federal contractors and most healthcare workers have a Jan. 4 deadline to get vaccinated without the option to submit to weekly testing under the rule.
“As we’ve seen with businesses—large and small—across all sectors of our economy, the overwhelming majority of Americans choose to get vaccinated,” Biden said in a statement, echoing claims made last week by his COVID-19 advisor, Jeff Zients. “There have been no ‘mass firings’ and worker shortages because of vaccination requirements. Despite what some predicted and falsely assert, vaccination requirements have broad public support.”
Biden then said that vaccines are the best “pathway out of this pandemic,” although numerous studies have shown that fully vaccinated individuals still spread COVID-19 to other vaccinated individuals. Several weeks ago, federal health officials approved booster doses for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.
“While I would have much preferred that requirements not become necessary, too many people remain unvaccinated for us to get out of this pandemic for good,” Biden said. “So I instituted requirements—and they are working.”
In September, when he announced the rule, Biden said that the U.S. vaccination rate was lagging behind that of other nations. White House officials earlier this week said that 80 percent of adults have received at least one shot, while 70 percent are fully vaccinated.
Unlike the mandate impacting workplaces with 100 or more employees, federal contractors and healthcare staff cannot opt out by requiring weekly testing for their workers. Before the rule was delayed on Thursday, several major industry associations warned that the mandate would create widespread staffing shortages and would lead to a chaotic holiday season.
The rule, however, has already been challenged by Republican state officials just hours after it was published. Attorneys general for Ohio, Tennessee, and Kentucky sued the Biden administration over the mandate for federal contractors.
“Unless we intervene, federal contractors in Tennessee will be forced to make sense of the mandate’s many inconsistencies that require their entire workforce be vaccinated or face potential blacklisting and loss of future federal contracts,” Tennessee Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III said in a statement announcing the lawsuit.
Members of Congress may also take action. On Thursday afternoon, Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), the ranking member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, urged the administration to consider waiving penalties for companies that have suffered due to supply-chain bottlenecks.
“Penalizing contractors, many of whom bid on and were awarded contracts prior to the collapse of the supply chain, will further disrupt the economy,” Comer wrote in his letter to the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, the General Services Administration, NASA, and the Pentagon. “Small business contractors may be hit particularly hard by late fees and penalties—making it unlikely they will survive.”