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Biden, pending OSHA rule, urges companies to demand vaccinations

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President Biden on Thursday called on private companies to mandate coronavirus vaccinations for workers, asking them to take initiative as an effort he announced last month to demand 80 million American workers get the injection, a lengthy regulatory process. undergoing and may not show effect for weeks.

The president, who made comments at a construction site outside Chicago, said encouraging Americans to get vaccinated had helped, but hadn’t gone far enough to tackle the pandemic.

“Even after all these efforts, we still have more than a quarter of people in the United States who are eligible for vaccinations but have not received the shot,” said Mr. Biden. “That’s why I had to go to requirements.”

He said mandates weren’t his first instinct, but the requirements “already prove they work”.

Biden said in September that he would use the full power of his presidency to get some 80 million American workers to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, reaching out to the private sector to mandate that all companies with more than 100 workers require vaccination or weekly tests. He ordered the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to draft a new rule that would make these requirements enforceable, a process White House officials said at the time would take at least three or four weeks.

The president said Thursday the rule would be introduced soon, but officials familiar with the process said it would likely take several more weeks.

In the meantime, Mr. Biden tried to shift the responsibility to companies, which he said would help the United States out of the pandemic: “Companies have more power than ever before to change the arc of this pandemic and save lives.”

A report released Thursday by the White House and shared with trade groups sought to show how vaccine mandates had helped persuade more people to get their injections: 78 percent of eligible adults have had at least their first dose , and data released in September show that unvaccinated Americans are 11 times more likely than vaccinated people to die from Covid-19.

Several major companies — such as 3M, AT&T and Procter & Gamble — along with some of the largest U.S. aerospace and defense companies — including Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman — have said they would enforce the new requirements, according to a report released Thursday. by the White House.

Mr. Biden chose to visit the Chicago area, in part because it is home to United Airlines, one of the first major airlines to require shots for its 67,000 U.S. employees. Other airlines followed suit with similar demands, including American Airlines, Southwest, JetBlue and Alaska Airlines. The president spoke at a location operated by Clayco, a construction company that has demanded vaccines and tests for its employees.

IBM said Thursday it would require all of its U.S. employees to be fully vaccinated by December 8, regardless of how often they come to the office. It will allow “limited” medical or religious exceptions. The company is one of a number of others with federal contractors facing their own vaccine mandates, which come into effect Dec. 8. Those guidelines are stricter than the proposed rules for private employers and do not allow the unvaccinated to be tested regularly. instead of being vaccinated. But they could encourage companies with both groups of employees, such as IBM and many airlines, to introduce more extensive vaccine mandates.

A White House official said the administration expected many companies to eventually announce vaccine-only policies.

Still, retailers are looking at the lead up to the holiday season, which is critical to their annual sales and where finding workers would be a challenge due to the pandemic. Some employers have expressed concern that mandates could further reduce staff who have already been mistreated, especially in hospitals and other healthcare facilities. So far, fears that mandates would lead to widespread exodus of disgruntled health professionals have been found to be largely exaggerated.

“When you see the headlines and reports of massive layoffs and hundreds of people losing their jobs, look at the bigger story,” Biden said.

Other companies, such as JPMorgan Chase and Walmart, have yet to make broad demands. OSHA standards would require unwilling companies to introduce mandates.

“I know of a few big companies that are ready to send the email to all employees, and they’re waiting for this to get out,” said Joseph Allen, an associate professor at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who advises companies about Covid-19 strategies. “If they’re going to spend the next two months getting the wording absolutely 100 percent for rule making, it misses the mark.”

An OSHA rule would take some of the pressure off employers by giving them clear guidelines, experts say, but the agency must first set standards that are met by law.

Several Republican governors have said they will challenge a formalized vaccine mandate. Texas Governor Greg Abbott said in September that his state was “already working to stop this coup.” Missouri Governor Mike Parson has called the mandate “potentially dangerous” for working families. Mark Brnovich, Arizona’s Republican Attorney General, filed a lawsuit against the OSHA rule and has threatened that Attorneys General 23 other states could follow suit.

“I know vaccination requirements are a difficult drug,” Mr Biden said on Thursday, addressing some of the criticism. “Not popular with some. Politics for others. But they are life savers. They are changing the game for our country.”

Experts said legal objections to the rule were almost certain, but the precedent is most likely on Mr Biden’s side. Over the past 20 years, “every standard challenged in court has been upheld by federal judges,” David Michaels, a professor at the George Washington University School of Public Health who served as head of OSHA during the Obama administration, said in a statement. an interview.

OSHA also has the authority to quickly issue a rule, called a temporary emergency standard, if it can demonstrate that workers are exposed to serious danger and that the rule is necessary to address it. The rule must also be enforceable for employers.

The rule-making process, overseen by about a dozen agency officials and a team of attorneys, involves a number of rigorous, time-consuming steps to address legal challenges. Officials were only notified about a week in advance of Mr Biden’s announcement, according to an official familiar with the directive.

OSHA also works through the long list of questions who have sent business groups to seek advice on the finer points of vaccine mandates, including concerns about who will pay for the testing and whether booster shots will also be mandated. The agency is also setting guidelines that would require employers to take paid leave to receive and recover from vaccinations, as Mr Biden has ordered.

“Between getting it right and making sure employers can actually comply, and also making sure it can withstand a lawsuit, I think that can take a while,” Jordan Barab, a former deputy assistant secretary at OSHA, said in a statement. an interview. “It’s not easy to do.”

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