Faced with a new wave of coronavirus and a faltering vaccination rate, the U.S. government is urging several million employees to get vaccinated with new rules. Employees who cannot provide proof of vaccination will be required to wear a mask at all times and be tested for possible infection once or twice a week, U.S. President Joe Biden said Thursday (local time). To raise vaccination rates among the population, he is also calling on states and municipalities to pay a $100 (85 euros) reward to each newly vaccinated person.
The rule for the government's more than two million civilian employees also applies to contractor employees working in government facilities, according to the statement. Unvaccinated employees are also to be subject to severe restrictions on official travel. With the strict rules, the White House apparently wants to make vaccinations the only convenient solution - but without explicitly relying on a politically controversial mandatory vaccination.
Biden stressed, however, that the government supports companies that want to make vaccinations mandatory for their employees. "We all want our lives to get back to normal, and fully vaccinated workplaces will quickly make that happen." On Wednesday, Google and Facebook, for example, had announced mandatory vaccinations.
Biden now also directed the Department of Defense to consider when the armed forces might impose a Corona vaccination requirement. The Pentagon employs about three million people, including about two million servicemen and women. Biden also said at the White House that the government is looking into requiring employee vaccination records or regular Corona testing from suppliers as well.
President Biden urged Americans to get vaccinated quickly. "Vaccination is the very best defense against becoming severely ill with Covid-19." Vaccination is the only way to defeat the pandemic, he said. The delta variant of the coronavirus is "highly contagious" and causes many illnesses among the unvaccinated, he said. It is now a "pandemic of the unvaccinated" in the United States, Biden stressed. About 99 percent of all Corona deaths were unvaccinated, he said. "This is an American tragedy. People who shouldn't be dying are dying and will die," Biden said.
The number of new daily infections in the U.S. will continue to rise before any improvement can be seen, the president warned, citing experts. Because of the delta variant, the average number of new infections per day rose again to about 65,000. A month ago, the average was still around 13,000. Per day, more than 300 people currently die after an infection.
Biden stressed that the government has more than enough vaccine for all Americans. "It's a shame. It's such a shame to waste that blessing." The Democrat has opposed a nationwide vaccination requirement, but is now mounting pressure. "If you are, in fact, unvaccinated, then you pose a problem - for yourself, for your family and for those you work with," Biden warned.
In the U.S., just over 49 percent of the population of about 330 million people have been fully vaccinated so far, and about 57 percent have received at least their first shot. More than 50 million doses delivered by the government to states have not yet been used, data from the CDC health agency show. Experts warn many doses could soon expire if the FDA, the agency in charge of the drug, doesn't extend the expiration date.
The president now called on states, counties and municipalities to offer a $100 reward for newly vaccinated individuals. They are to use leftover funds from the March stimulus package to do so. This should be "an extra incentive" to increase vaccination rates "and save lives," the Treasury Department said. Biden added, "If incentives help us beat this virus, I think we should use them." If more people are vaccinated, he said, the entire country benefits.
The stimulus package included $350 billion in aid to states, counties and localities, many of which have not yet been fully drawn down or budgeted. However, many states and municipalities have already offered numerous incentives to increase vaccination rates - including multi-million dollar prizes, bonds or a reward for all those vaccinated. The city of New York, for example, is offering $100 each to those willing to be vaccinated as an incentive starting as early as Friday
Image by Gerd Altmann