Biden eyes tougher vaccine rules without provoking backlash

Aug 12, 2021, 9:16 AM | Updated: Aug 13, 2021, 2:04 pm
President Joe Biden speaks about prescription drug prices and his "Build Back Better" agenda from t...

President Joe Biden speaks about prescription drug prices and his "Build Back Better" agenda from the East Room of the White House, Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (AP) — When the pace of vaccinations in the U.S. first began to slow, President Joe Biden backed incentives like million-dollar cash lotteries if that’s what it took to get shots in arms. But as new coronavirus infections soar, he’s testing a tougher approach.

In just the past two weeks, Biden has forced millions of federal workers to attest to their vaccination status or face onerous new requirements. He’s met with business leaders at the White House to press them to do the same.

Meanwhile, the administration has taken steps toward mandating shots for people traveling into the U.S. from overseas. And the White House is weighing options to be more assertive at the state and local level, including potential support for school districts imposing rules to prevent spread of the virus over the objection of Republican leaders.

“To the mayors, school superintendents, educators, local leaders, who are standing up to the governors politicizing mask protection for our kids: thank you,” Biden said Thursday. “Thank God that we have heroes like you, and I stand with you all, and America should as well.”

But even as Biden becomes more aggressive, he has refrained from using all his powers to pressure Americans to get vaccinated. He’s held off, for instance, on proposals to require vaccinations for all air travelers or, for that matter, the federal workforce. The result is a precarious balancing act as Biden works to make life more uncomfortable for the unvaccinated without spurring a backlash in a deeply polarized country that would only undermine his public health goals.

Vaccine mandates are “the right lever at the right time,” said Ben Wakana, the deputy director of strategic communications and engagement for the White House COVID-19 response, noting the public’s increasing confidence in the vaccines and adding that it marks a new phase in the government’s campaign to encourage Americans to get shots.

Many Republicans, particularly those eyeing the party’s 2024 presidential nomination, disagree and warn of federal overreaching into decisions that should be left to individuals. Biden and Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, an epicenter of the latest virus wave, have spent weeks feuding over the proper role of government during a public health crisis.

There is notable support for vaccine mandates. According to a recent poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation, 51% of Americans say the federal government should recommend that employers require their workers to get vaccinated, while 45% say it should not.

For now, Biden has required most federal workers to attest to their vaccination status under potential criminal penalties, with those who have not received a dose required to maintain social distancing, test weekly for the virus and face other potential restrictions on their work.

Health workers at the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Health and Human Services will be required to get vaccinated, and the Pentagon has announced that it intends to mandate vaccines for the military by next month.

The sharper federal approach comes as nearly 90 million eligible Americans still have not been vaccinated and as Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, says shots are the only path for the nation to contain the delta variant.

White House officials say Biden wanted to initially operate with restraint to ensure that Americans were ready for the strong-arming from the federal government. The federal moves have been carefully calibrated to encourage a wave of businesses and governments to follow suit.

Biden administration officials briefed prominent Washington trade groups, including the Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable, ahead of the federal announcement in hopes their members would follow suit. White House officials have fielded dozens of calls from business executive in recent weeks about how to implement their own vaccination mandates, officials said, sharing best practices and tips for how to protect their workforces.

“Through vaccination requirements, employers have the power to help end the pandemic,” White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said Thursday, naming companies, universities and local governments that have implemented them.

The new restrictions appear to be having the desired effect. The rules — combined with fresh concerns about the surging delta variant — have nearly doubled the average rate that Americans are getting newly vaccinated from last month to about 450,000 per day.

Zients said the White House still has no plans to develop the infrastructure for so-called vaccine passports, despite some criticism from businesses that the patchwork of local and state verification systems leaves them without a clear way to enforce mandates. The Biden administration had promised to share frameworks for verification systems, but ultimately left them all to the private sector and local governments, in part because of political sensitivities.

Still, while more severe measures — such as mandating vaccines for interstate travel or changing how the federal government reimburses treatment for those who are unvaccinated and become ill with COVID-19 — have been discussed, the administration worried that they would be too polarizing at this time. An administration official said the interstate travel vaccination requirement was not under consideration at the moment.

That’s not to say they won’t be implemented in the future, as public opinion continues to shift toward requiring vaccinations as a means to restore normalcy.

Lawrence Gostin, a professor of health law at Georgetown University, said Biden would likely need to continue to turn up the pressure on the unvaccinated. “He’s really going to have to use all the leverage the federal government has, and indeed use pressure points,” Gostin said. “And I think there are a few that he can do but he hasn’t done yet.”

“The country is completely fatigued with lockdowns, business closures and masking,” added Gostin, “and vaccines are literally our only tool. We’ve tried masking, distancing, occupancy limits, even entire lockdowns now for coming along nearly two years. And the virus just keeps raging back. And the vaccines are the only thing we have now to defeat the virus. We need to use that tool and we need to use it vigorously. And I think there will be large public support for that.”

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

concede...
Associated Press

GOP’s Joe Kent contests results of Washington state race

Republican Joe Kent's campaign said Friday it intends to request a machine ballot recount of the counties within southwest Washington state's 3rd Congressional District.
10 hours ago
Gavel...
Associated Press

Case against man arrested in 1994 death of woman dismissed

Criminal charges against a man suspected in the 1994 murder of a Vancouver, Washington, woman have been dismissed.
10 hours ago
This photo provided by the Miami-Dade Corrections & Rehabilitation Department shows Chen Wu. Oklaho...
Associated Press

Man charged with killing 4 workers at Oklahoma pot farm

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A man accused of killing four workers at an Oklahoma marijuana farm had demanded the return of his $300,000 investment in the operation shortly before he started shooting, prosecutors allege in court documents. Chen Wu, 45, was charged Friday in Kingfisher County with four counts of first-degree murder and one count […]
1 day ago
FILE - French writer and activist Dominique Lapierre holds a copy of his book on the Bhopal gas tra...
Associated Press

Dominique Lapierre, French author and journalist, dies at 91

NICE, France (AP) — French writer Dominique Lapierre, who was celebrated for his novels about the World War II struggle to liberate Paris and depicting a life of hardship in a Kolkata slum, has died. He was 91. Lapierre died Friday, a local newspaper in southern France reported Monday, citing an interview with the author’s […]
1 day ago
Pearl Harbor survivor Lou Conter, 102, is seen at his home in Grass Valley, Calif., Friday, Nov. 18...
Associated Press

USS Arizona survivor: Honor those killed at Pearl Harbor

HONOLULU (AP) — USS Arizona sailor Lou Conter lived through the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor even though his battleship exploded and sank after being pierced by aerial bombs. That makes the now 101-year-old somewhat of a celebrity, especially on the anniversary of the Dec. 7, 1941 assault. Many call him and others in the […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Spain: More animal eyes sent to Ukrainian Embassy, offices

Madrid (AP) — Three parcels containing animal eyes and addressed to Ukraine’s embassy in Madrid and consulates in Barcelona and Malaga were intercepted at offices of the national postal company, Spanish police said Monday. Seven European countries, including Spain, reported Friday that similar packages had arrived at their Ukrainian embassies or consulates last week. Ukraine’s […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.
SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Biden eyes tougher vaccine rules without provoking backlash