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Biden Announces New COVID-19 Vaccination Initiatives and Mandates

President Joe Biden delivering remarks about COVID-19 mandates.

Anna Moneymaker / Staff / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • On Thursday, President Joe Biden announced new vaccination incentives and mandates geared at ending the pandemic.
  • These include paid leave for employees who need to help their family members get vaccinated, and mandatory vaccinations or COVID-19 testing for federal workers.
  • While experts say this is a step in the right direction, they question whether these policies will be effective without requiring proof of vaccination.

President Joe Biden on Thursday announced new vaccination incentives and mandates, stressing the need to depoliticize vaccinations and avoid moving backward in the course of the pandemic.

“Look, this is not about red states and blue states,” Biden said. “It’s literally about life and death.”

Incentives include using the American Rescue Plan to expand paid leave for employees who need to get their family members vaccinated, asking school districts to hold a pop-up vaccination clinic for students in the coming weeks, and calling on states, territories, and local governments to offer $100 to people who get vaccinated. 

The administration is requiring federal workers and onsite contractors to either get fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or wear a mask, social distance, and submit to regular COVID-19 testing protocols. He encouraged private workplaces to follow this approach. 

Biden also directed the Department of Defense to consider how and when to add COVID-19 vaccines to the list of necessary vaccinations for members of the military.

“We all want our lives to get back to normal, and fully vaccinated workplaces will—will make that happen more quickly and more successfully,” Biden said. “We all know that in our gut.”

Speaking to families and younger Americans directly, Biden discussed the role of vaccinations in keeping schools open. He stressed the importance of in-the-classroom education for children’s mental and emotional wellbeing.

“We can’t afford another year out of the classroom,” he said. “Every school should be open, and we’re giving them the tools to be able to do so safely.”

With funding provided by the American Rescue Plan, the administration will support schools in implementing COVID-19 safety measures like ventilation and social distancing.

Medical Experts Have Mixed Feelings About the Announcement

Leana Wen, MD, emergency physician, public professor at George Washington University and former Baltimore Health Commissioner, tells Verywell she commends the vaccination requirement for federal workers but worries that it cannot be enforced without proof of vaccination.

“Businesses are looking to the White House for vaccine verification,” Wen says. “It would be wonderful if the White House had announced some type of verification systems to ensure that there is proof of vaccination.”

Despite mandating that federal workers affirm their vaccination status, Biden has not clarified how, or if, they will have to provide proof. Wen adds that both this and current guidance surrounding mask use comes off as “muddled” messaging.

“The issue is not the vaccinated,” Wen says. “The issue is that the unvaccinated are not masking, and in order for them to wear a mask, you need for the vaccinated to put on their masks, too.”

Reshma Ramachandran, MD, MPP, physician-fellow at the Yale National Clinician Scholars Program, tells Verywell her colleagues have also expressed skepticism about asking workers to affirm their vaccination status on the “honor system.”

She adds that while showing a vaccination card or listing appointment dates can be helpful, taking more extreme measures could be invasive to a person’s privacy.

“As a physician, I tend to trust my patients and want to think the best for everyone, especially in this situation,” Ramachandran says. “Providing some sort of proof—and not having a checkbox saying ‘yes or no’—would be the ideal measure that still preserves personal autonomy and trust between the federal government and their employees.”

What This Means For You

If you’ve yet to get vaccinated, you can find a vaccination clinic near you, here. If you are vaccinated, the CDC now recommends that you wear a mask indoors if you live in a county where the COVID-19 case rate falls within the "substantial" or "high" range on their data tracker.

Keeping Up Safety Measures

Biden cited the Delta variant’s spike in COVID-19 cases as a reason to practice safety measures, like wearing masks indoors in high-risk environments, for both vaccinated and unvaccinated Americans.

An internal document from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) obtained by The Washington Post this Thursday revealed that the Delta variant is not only more transmissible than previous strains of COVID-19, but more transmissible than the common cold or seasonal flu. In fact, it is as transmissible as chickenpox.

Today, the CDC released a report showing that 74% of people infected with COVID-19 in a Massachusetts outbreak had been fully vaccinated.

Experts note that transmission rates remain lower among people who are vaccinated than those who are unvaccinated.

Still, the studies highlight the importance of continuing to follow public health measures, like indoor mask use, regardless of vaccination status, Ramachandran says.

“As a healthcare worker, I just don't want this nightmare to continue, and more than anything else, I want to make sure that we can protect as many people as possible,” Ramachandran says. “That means that even if you’re vaccinated, to still wear a mask indoors.” 

“We’re so close to beating this pandemic,” she adds. “I’m hopeful, still.”

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 Infections, Including COVID-19 Vaccine Breakthrough Infections, Associated with Large Public Gatherings — Barnstable County, Massachusetts, July 2021. July 30, 2021.