President Joe Biden announced on Thursday that he will order all government workers to prove that they are vaccinated if they do not want to be tested regularly, and did not rule out the possibility of imposing a nationwide vaccination mandate in the future.
Biden’s announcement, which also called on the Pentagon to force vaccinations on all military personnel in the country, worries a large part of the population that considers that their individual liberties are being trampled upon.
“We are going to ask all federal government employees to prove their vaccination status,” Biden said during a speech at the White House.
Forced vaccination or test
Those who fail to provide such proof will be required to wear a mask to work and submit to COVID-19 testing on a weekly or even biweekly basis; in addition to maintaining physical distances and being generally not allowed to participate in official travel, the president explained.
The measure will apply to the more than 4 million federal workers in the United States and the rest of the world, and similar standards will be implemented for all government contractors, according to the White House.
“If you want to do business with the federal government, vaccinate your workers,” Biden stressed.
The announcement represents an attempt by Biden to infringe on the individual liberties of his employees in order to boost the vaccination campaign in the United States, which has slowed markedly in the last two months, with 49% of the population inoculated with the full vaccine schedule.
As president, Biden can unilaterally impose a mandate on government workers, but the White House had asserted that he did not legally have the power to do the same to force all Americans to get vaccinated.
Biden contradicts his advisors
However, Biden himself contradicted his advisers on Thursday and left the door open to the possibility of finding a way to impose such a mandate nationwide.
“The question is whether the federal government can mandate it nationwide. I don’t know yet,” the president said in response to a journalist’s question.
For now, the president indicated that states, localities and businesses do have the power, according to the Justice Department, to impose vaccination mandates in their jurisdictions, and said he would “like” to see that happen more and more.
It is unclear how many government workers are already vaccinated, but Biden’s announcement drew criticism from some sectors of the federal workforce, including the Postal Service employee’s union and an association of law enforcement and security agents.
The president also asked the Pentagon to examine “how and when they will add the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of requirements” for members of the U.S. Armed Forces, the White House explained in a statement.
More than 70% of the U.S. military are already fully vaccinated, according to Pentagon data, a much higher proportion than the 49% of the general U.S. population that has received the full schedule.