On Thursday, President Biden announced wide-reaching new covid-19 vaccine rules that require all federal employees and contractors to be vaccinated, as well as requiring all large companies in the U.S. to mandate their employees get vaccinated or receive regular covid-19 testing. These new vaccination requirements also apply to the 17 million healthcare workers who work at facilities receiving Medicare or Medicaid funds as well as the 300,000 educators in federal Head Start programs. In total, these vaccine mandates will impact approximately 100 million Americans.
Well, it’s about damn time.
The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration plans to issue an “emergency temporary standard” in order to require that all employers with at least 100 employees make sure that their entire workforce is vaccinated, or require weekly negative covid-19 tests. This new standard will also mandate that employers give their workers paid time off in order to get vaccinated—a potentially important step in easing vaccine accessibility. A failure to comply with these new rules could lead to companies facing fines of $14,000 for each violation.
“My job as president is to protect all Americans,” Biden said during his address on Thursday evening. “So tonight, I’m announcing that the Department of Labor is developing an emergency rule to require all employers with 100 or more employees that together employ over 80 million workers to ensure their workforces are fully vaccinated or show a negative test at least once a week.”
“The bottom line — we’re going to protect vaccinated workers from unvaccinated coworkers,” he added.
After a year and a half long period in which over 650,000 people in the U.S. have died and countless others have contracted serious lifelong medical conditions as a result of this virus—which is continuing to mutate and spread—it’s past time for the government to take drastic measures. But despite the fact that these new vaccine rules will ultimately save lives, I certainly won’t be praising the government for doing the bare minimum, because it’s also true that these mandates may not have been necessary if the U.S. government had handled the pandemic in a way that established any degree of trust with the American people.
Anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers are a different matter entirely, but it’s not hard to understand why Black and Latinx people who watched up close while the federal government’s unwillingness to shut down the country early in the pandemic killed their neighbors and loved ones might have been hesitant to take a vaccine that the same government insists is safe. After all, people of color in the U.S. have a long and horrific history when it comes to the U.S. medical system involving everything from involuntary sterilization to being the subjects of medical experiments to having their actual cells used without their consent, all within the last century.
It’s also revealing that the federal government appears to be much more willing to mandate that workers be fired for not wanting to receive the vaccine than they ever were to provide monetary assistance to the millions of workers who had no option but to go into work in person over the past 18 months. Instead of coming up with a comprehensive public health education plan early in the vaccine rollout or issuing monthly stimulus checks or pausing rent and mortgage payments, the U.S. government chose instead to wait until after half a million people had died to... *checks notes* encourage companies to take punitive measures against unvaccinated individuals? Despite the fact that these unvaccinated individuals would not even have the opportunity to spread the virus if the government wasn’t so insistent on opening schools up for in-person instruction and allowing restaurants and other businesses to function as if we weren’t living through a goddamn global pandemic?
The U.S. government prizing the economy over the lives of its constituents and then punishing those same constituents for not trusting the government? How utterly shocking.