Highlights

  • Get vaccinated or be tested for Covid-19 weekly: US govt to workers
  • 84 million American workers mandated to get vaccinated
  • Companies not to pay for weekly test but allow leave-for-jab

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Biden's boldest move on Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy: 84mn U.S. workers told to vaccinate or do weekly test

The new requirements are the Biden administration's boldest move yet to persuade reluctant Americans to finally get a vaccine that has been widely available for months -- or face financial consequences

About 84 million Americans who work at companies with 100 or more employees will need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Jan. 4, 2022, or get tested for the virus weekly, under government rules issued Thursday.

The new requirements are the Biden administration's boldest move yet to persuade reluctant Americans to finally get a vaccine that has been widely available for months -- or face financial consequences.

If successful, administration officials believe it will go a long way toward ending a pandemic that has killed more than 750,000 Americans.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations will force the companies to require that unvaccinated workers test negative for COVID-19 at least once a week and wear a mask while in the workplace.

David Michaels use to lead OSHA during the Obama administration and is currently a Professor of public health at The George Washington University. He views the federal mandates as being critically important.

"It's much easier for employers if they just mandate vaccinations, and they put a lot of burden on employees to have to purchase their own testing and masks if the employer doesn't want to do it," Michaels said. "I think that's an unfortunate choice. I think employers should be providing those things, but the way it's structured is going to move people into vaccinations very quickly."

Companies won't be required to provide or pay for tests for unvaccinated workers, but they must give paid time off for employees to get the shots and sick leave to recover from side effects that prevent them from working. Requirements for masks and paid time off for shots take effect Dec. 5.

However, Stephanie Martz with the National Retail Federation worries the requirement could disrupt their operations during the critical Christmas shopping period and worsen supply chain disruptions.

"I'm really concerned about what's going to happen if employees in even marginal percentages decide that they would rather not work than be subject to mandates like this one," Martz said.

"That doesn't at all reflect our industry's view of vaccines in general," she added. "It's just reflecting the reality of where we are right now in terms of trying to get employees to come to work every day and help get us through the holiday season."

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The rules set up potential legal battles along partisan lines between states and the federal government. Several states and Republican governors threatened to sue, contending that the administration lacks the power to make such sweeping mandates under emergency authority.

Michaels believes it would be a "mistake" if any lawsuits result in a court temporarily stopping the vaccinate-or-test law from taking effect.

"There are governors out there. There are members of Congress who are vociferously anti vaccinations or anti-mask," Michaels said. "They're doing this for political reasons. We need these regulations to save lives and get the country back to normal, and it's unfortunate that they're doing this."

OSHA's parent agency, the Labor Department, says it is on sound legal footing.

Employment lawyer Amanda Sonneborn with a firm called King and Spalding, said the employers they're working with are " planning to go ahead and comply" with the federal mandates.

"Of course, if the challenges succeed and they don't have to comply going forward, they would make that change," Sonneborn said.

"I think it's important to know that there's very few states that actually have laws that contradict the position arguably put forward here because it's giving you the choice between mandating vaccination or testing," she added.

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