President Biden on Thursday announced new vaccine mandates for millions of workers around the United States, aiming to boost vaccinations and curb the surging delta variant that is killing thousands each week and jeopardizing the nation’s economic recovery.

The mandates, which include large businesses, federal employees and the majority of health care workers, apply to around 100 million employees across the country — equivalent to nearly two-thirds of the total workforce, Biden said.

What You Need To Know

  • President Biden on Thursday announced new vaccine mandates for millions of workers around the United States, including large businesses, federal employees and the majority of health care workers

  • The White House outlined a forthcoming rule for large businesses, which will require them to ensure all employees are vaccinated or tested weekly

  • Biden also announced a new executive order to require vaccination for employees of the executive branch and contractors who do business with the federal government, plus mandate vaccines for health care providers who accept federal insurance

  • The new mandates were outlined in a speech Thursday afternoon detailing the president's new, six-pronged plan to address the latest rise in coronavirus cases and the stagnating pace of COVID-19 shots

In a speech Thursday evening, the president delivered a passionate address to those who have yet to get vaccinated against COVID-19, saying he understands both the anger and anxiety among the already-vaccinated population. 

"Many of us are frustrated with the nearly 80 million Americans who are still not vaccinated, even though the vaccine is safe, effective and free,” Biden said from the White House, later adding: “What makes it incredibly more frustrating is we have the tools to combat COVID-19, and a distinct minority of Americans, supported by a distinct minority of elected officials, are keeping us from turning the corner.”

More than 208 million Americans have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 177 million are fully vaccinated, but confirmed cases of the virus have shot up in recent weeks to an average of about 140,000 per day with on average about 1,000 Americans dying from the virus daily, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Most of the spread — and the vast majority of severe illness and death — is occurring among those not yet fully vaccinated against the virus. So-called breakthrough infections in vaccinated people occur, but tend to be far less dangerous.

“This is not about freedom, or personal choice,” Biden said of getting vaccinated. “It's about protecting yourself and those around you, people you work with, the people you care about, people you love.”

The president outlines a forthcoming requirement for private companies with 100 employees or more to ensure all their workers are fully vaccinated or that they produce a negative COVID test weekly, at a minimum. The new rule, which comes from the Department of Labor, will impact as many as 80 million workers in the private sector. 

Biden also signed a new executive order to require vaccination for employees of the executive branch and contractors who do business with the federal government, with no testing option. Federal employees were previously allowed to opt-out of the vaccine mandate if they agreed to weekly COVID tests.

“If you want to do business with the federal government, vaccinate your workforce,” Biden emphasized during his address. 

The new requirements will also apply to “most” health care workers in settings that accept Medicaid and Medicare, another mandate that will impact more than 17 million people and “apply to approximately 50,000 providers,” according to White House guidance. 

The White House on Wednesday released an 11-page document titled “Path out of the Pandemic: President Biden’s COVID-19 Action Plan,” which also includes details on efforts such as a plan for booster shots, increasing virus testing in schools, more funding for businesses impacted by the pandemic and boosting support for antibody treatments and hospitals burdened by COVID-19.

The latest playbook is meant to show that Biden’s administration is working to tackle the alarming rise in COVID-19 cases, which the president has blamed for last month's weaker-than-expected jobs report. He's warned the surge could further imperil the nation's economy as some pandemic safety net protections expire.

Senior administration officials said Thursday that a timeline for the mandates, further details about the new plans and additional steps to fight the pandemic will be announced in the coming days and weeks.

Asked what the punishment would be for federal workers who do not get vaccinated within the time frame allowed, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said they would go through an “HR process” and could be fired.

“Hopefully it doesn’t come to that,” she said.

Federal workers and contractors will not have a testing option, but the order includes exceptions for people seeking religious or medical exemptions from vaccination. Psaki said they would have about 75 days to comply.

The new vaccine requirement for private companies will come in the form of a new Occupational Safety and Health Administration standard.

If a company does not follow the new rules, the agency "will take enforcement actions” in the form of “substantial fines,” a senior administration official said.

Biden issued a plea both to unvaccinated Americans and, without identifying them by name, a number of GOP governors who had previously banned mask mandates in businesses and schools, saying their actions have “cost all of us” over the course of the past year.

“My message to unvaccinated Americans is this: What more is there to wait for? What more do you need to see?” Biden asked. 

“Our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost us, cost all of us,” he later added. “So please, do the right thing. Just don't take it from me, listen to the voices of unvaccinated Americans who are lying in hospital beds, taking their final breath saying, ‘If only I'd gotten vaccinated. If only.’ It’s a tragedy. Please don’t let it become yours.”

Biden has encouraged COVID-19 vaccine requirements in settings like schools, workplaces and university campuses, and the White House hopes the strengthened federal mandate will inspire more businesses to follow suit.

The Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Health and Human Services, the Indian Health Service, and the National Institute of Health have previously announced vaccine requirements for much of their staffs, and the Pentagon moved last month to require all servicemembers to get vaccinated.

Biden on Thursday called on states to adopt vaccine mandates for all school employees, plus use federal funding for testing programs and other reopening measures.

He also highlighted new efforts to increase testing nationwide, including by making rapid tests more accessible and affordable at major retailers like Walmart and Amazon and expanding free testing in pharmacies.

Another prong of the plan focuses on antibody treatments for people infected with COVID-19. The White House said they would increase weekly shipments of the drugs to states by 50% and expand the number of personnel qualified to give the treatment, partly through “monoclonal antibody strike teams.”

Federal officials are moving ahead with plans to begin administering booster shots of the mRNA vaccines to bolster protection against the more transmissible delta variant of the virus. Last month Biden announced plans to make them available beginning on Sept. 20, but only the Pfizer vaccine will likely have received regulatory approval for a third dose by that time. Federal regulators are seeking additional data from Moderna that will likely delay its booster approval until October.

Officials are aiming to administer the booster shots about eight months after the second dose of the two-dose vaccines.

Biden on Thursday attempted to clear up confusion surrounding booster shots, saying the third dose will offer “even more protection” than a two-dose regimen.

“Last month, government doctors announced an initial plan for booster shots for vaccinated Americans. They believe that a booster is likely to provide the highest level of protection yet,” Biden said. “Of course, the decision of which booster shots to give, when to start them, and who will give them will be left completely to the scientists of the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control.”