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White House Issues COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates for Large Firms, Health Care Workers

FILE - A shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is prepared at the First Baptist Church of Pasadena, Calif., May 14, 2021.
FILE - A shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is prepared at the First Baptist Church of Pasadena, Calif., May 14, 2021.

The White House on Thursday released new COVID-19 vaccination rules for U.S. companies with 100 or more employees, requiring that their workers be fully inoculated by January 4 or get tested at least once a week.

The White House also issued similar rules for health care workers employed at facilities participating in Medicare and Medicaid. Under the rules, issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, offices must provide time off for employees to get the vaccinations. The rules also call for unvaccinated workers to wear masks in the workplace.

A White House fact sheet says the rules will affect 84 million employees and about 17 million health care workers at 76,000 facilities, including hospitals and long-term care facilities. A White House official said employers failing to comply with the rules could face fines of up to $14,000 per violation.

Under the policies, workers will be able to ask for exemptions on medical or religious grounds.

President Joe Biden released a statement saying he sees this as a simple choice for the country: “Get more people vaccinated or prolong this pandemic and its impact on our country.”

Biden said that while he would have preferred not to issue these requirements, too many people have gone unvaccinated for the nation to get out of the pandemic for good.

Republican criticism

Several Republican lawmakers voiced opposition to the mandate, with Senator Mike Braun leading 40 of his colleagues in an effort to challenge the policy. In a statement Wednesday, Braun said they were formally moving to “disapprove and nullify” the mandate on private employees “under the Congressional Review Act: the official process for Congress to eliminate an executive branch rule.”

Braun, of Indiana, is the ranking member of a subcommittee on employment and workplace safety.

“This rule by the Biden administration is a highly inappropriate invasion of what should be a personal medical decision for every American,” he said.

Biden issued his executive order on the vaccine mandate in September.

The president has said that previous vaccine requirements for military and federal contractors have worked, helping to reduce the number of unvaccinated Americans over age 12 from 100 million in late July to about 60 million now.

Biden said the mandates have not resulted in worker shortages and mass firings as some predicted. He said the policies enjoy broad public support and are nothing new, as people have been required to get vaccinated for many other diseases over the years or abide by other workplace safety standards.

He said these latest requirements were designed “to protect people from something that has taken the lives of 750,000 Americans.”​

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.

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