© Reuters. A pedestrian walks past an advertisement in the Manhattan neighborhood of New York City, New York, United States, on March 29, 2021, encouraging people to sign up for COVID-19 vaccine appointments. REUTERS / Caitlin Ochs
By Steve Holland, Jeff Mason and David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden on Thursday called on local governments to pay people to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and set new rules requiring federal employees to provide proof of vaccination or to face regular tests, mask requirements and travel restrictions.
The measures are Biden’s latest attempt to get reluctant Americans to get vaccinated as the delta variant of the coronavirus rises nationwide, particularly infecting unvaccinated people.
The United States lags behind other developed countries in vaccination rates, despite having many free vaccines available. The White House’s efforts to press those reluctant to vaccinate have hit a wall of anti-vaccination campaigns, misinformation and political division.
Biden’s decision to require millions of federal employees and contractors to provide proof of vaccination is a move away from an earlier rejection of so-called vaccination passports. It shows that as the virus spreads, the White House is taking a tougher stance on circumstances that are under Biden’s control.
“Too many people are dying or watching someone they love right now,” Biden told White House reporters.
“With freedom comes responsibility. So please judge responsibly. Get vaccinated for yourself, the people you love, for your country.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 163.8 million people in the United States are fully vaccinated out of a population of about 330 million.
The federal government is the largest employer in the United States, and Biden’s move could serve as an example for private companies and other institutions as they assess how workers can get back into offices and workplaces.
Government employees who are not vaccinated will have weekly or twice weekly COVID-19 tests and travel restrictions.
The United States has approximately 2.18 million civilian employees and 570,000 other US Postal Service (USPS) employees based on 2020 data. According to a study by New York University, the US government employed 3.7 million contract workers in 2017. Postal workers are not affected by the new rules.
Biden also directed the Department of Defense to investigate “how and when” it requires military personnel to take the vaccine.
Meanwhile, state, local, and U.S. territorial governments can draw on $ 350 billion in coronavirus aid to provide $ 100 in payments for every newly vaccinated American to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates, the US said -Finance Department with.
“I know it may sound unfair to people who have already vaccinated to pay people to get vaccinated. But here’s the deal: if incentives help us fight this virus, I think we should use them, ”Biden said.
OPENING OF SCHOOLS
Biden’s pandemic strategy is being put to the test as a delta variant https://www.reuters.com/world/us/bidens-covid-19-strategy-thwarted-by-anti-vaxxers-delta-variant-2021-07-29 is spreading and many Americans refuse to take the vaccine. Increasing outbreaks could affect the strong economic recovery; the US economy grew at an annual rate of 6.5 percent, the government said on Thursday.
Another issue is how the surge in infections is affecting efforts to get children back to schools in the fall.
“We can and must open schools full-time this fall,” said Biden. “We can’t afford another year outside of the classroom.”
Biden urged school districts to hold at least one “pop-up vaccination clinic” in the coming weeks to vaccinate children 12 and older.
The White House also said that small and medium-sized businesses will be reimbursed for offering their workers paid time off to vaccinate children and other family members.
The National Treasury Employees Union, which includes 150,000 federal employees across 34 departments and agencies, said it was encouraging its members to get vaccinated but had questions about how Biden’s new rules would be implemented.
“We will work to ensure that employees are treated fairly and that this protocol does not place undue burden on them,” union president Tony Reardon said in a statement.
The International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, which has 90,000 members including about 30,000 NASA engineers and other skilled federal employees, said it supports a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for federal employees.
“We don’t want any more of our members to die,” said union president Paul Shearon.