Joe Biden Is Facing A Legal Avalanche Over His COVID Vaccine Mandate
Back in September, after a summer of setbacks due to the delta variant, President Joe Biden announced a new, more aggressive strategy to combat COVID-19: Under his direction, the Labor Department issued an emergency rule requiring companies with at least 100 employees to mandate COVID vaccines or regular testing. Now, that plan is moving forward—and with it the political battle Republicans have been promising since Biden’s announcement earlier this fall. On Thursday, the administration said that it would require eligible employees to get their shots by January 4 or undergo frequent testing—a plan that will impact about a hundred million Americans, or two-thirds of the nation’s workforce.
The announcement came as vaccines opened up to children as young as five, a move also expected to boost inoculation rates. “The virus will not go away by itself, or because we wish it away: we have to act,” Biden said in a statement Thursday. “Vaccination is the single best pathway out of this pandemic. And while I would have much preferred that requirements not become necessary, too many people remain unvaccinated for us to get out of this pandemic for good.”
Biden helped usher in dramatic progress in the fight against the coronavirus earlier this year, with an accelerated vaccine rollout in the late winter and early spring driving down cases and giving Americans a taste of post-pandemic normalcy. But that trend gave way to a strange limbo in the back half of 2021: The more infectious delta mutation made inroads in a nation of patchwork public health rules and varying levels of protection. By early fall, Biden had begun issuing vaccine requirements and encouraged localities and businesses to set their own mandates. His vaccine mandate announcement in September was generally supported by the public, the vast majority of whom have received their shots if they are eligible. But conservatives freaked out, reaching for hyperbolic comparisons and describing the move as “tyranny.”
The announcement that the rules would take effect early next year immediately triggered similar right-wing outrage, with several GOP states filing a lawsuit against the administration to stop the mandates. “People have freedoms,” South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem said in a video statement Thursday, “and they have personal responsibility over their health.”
It’s not clear what will come of the latest round in the legal fight over mandates, but as the Washington Post noted Thursday, requirements have mostly been upheld in court battles so far. They have also largely been met with compliance, though there has been some high-profile pushback, including from police unions in places like New York and Chicago.
Nevertheless, the mandates appear to be working, boosting vaccination rates by more than 20 percent among targeted populations, according to the White House. In his statement Thursday, Biden cast the worker requirements not just as a common-sense public health measure, but an essential part of the country’s economic recovery. “Vaccination requirements are good for the economy,” Biden said. “They not only increase vaccination rates but they help send people back to work…They make our economy more resilient in the face of COVID and keep our businesses open.”
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