Biden Admin Delays Federal Vaccine Enforcement Until New Year

Biden Admin Delays Federal Vaccine Enforcement Until New Year
A nurse is handed a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine before administering it to a college student at a mobile vaccination clinic at the California State University Long Beach campus in Calif., on Aug. 11, 2021. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)
Jack Phillips

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) told some federal agencies and managers that they can wait to terminate or suspend their employees who won't get vaccinated until the holidays are over, according to a memo that was sent by the agency on Monday.

The memo was confirmed by White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Monday afternoon after she was questioned by reporters about the OMB delay.

Earlier, OMB Deputy Director for Management Jason Miller and Office of Personnel Management Director Kiran Ahuja wrote that "no subsequent enforcement actions, beyond that education and counseling" is mandated for federal workers "who have not yet complied with the vaccination requirement until the new calendar year begins in January," according to several news reports.

But Psaki downplayed the text of the memo, saying that "nothing has changed" regarding the deadline or the Biden administration's approach to enforcing COVID-19 vaccine compliance among federal workers. She said that it is "inaccurate" to say that the White House has "delayed anything, or changed" its enforcement of the rule.

Last week, the Biden administration announced that approximately 92 percent of federal workers have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. The rest have either not complied with the mandate or have sought religious or medical exemptions.

And a spokesperson for OMB told media outlets later on Monday that the vaccine "deadline was November 22, and we already have 96.5 percent compliance across a diverse workforce that is the largest in the United States. This is incredible progress and should serve as an example to employers across the board that vaccination requirements work."

The Office of Management and Budget and its chief spokesperson have not responded to multiple requests for comment.

The deadline, the spokesperson continued, isn't designed to "penalize anyone." Federal agencies are "encouraged" to "continue the education and counseling period in December for the small number of employees not already in compliance," the spokesperson told CNN.

Most federal suspensions and removals will be delayed until 2022, the spokesperson said, asserting that OMB is "seeing [a] strong increase in compliance and believe this is the best approach to vaccinate more employees."

The American Federation of Government Employees, a union representing federal workers, praised the White House's vaccine deadline timeline shift in a statement.

“The administration has done the right thing by listening to federal workers, taking their concerns seriously, and giving those who haven’t yet gotten vaccinated some peace of mind this holiday season,” said union President Everett Kelley.

Biden announced the requirement for federal workers on Sept. 9 as part of an effort that he described as an attempt to increase vaccination rates across the United States. He also ordered private businesses with 100 or more workers to either mandate vaccines or weekly testing, as well as mask-wearing.

The mandate for private businesses, issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, was put on hold by a federal appeals court about two days after it was published earlier in November.