Biden announces new vaccine requirements in US to combat COVID

US President Joe Biden has announced a series of measures to boost vaccination rates against COVID-19 in the United States, including requiring federal employees to get inoculated and mandating that large employers ensure their workers are vaccinated or tested weekly for the virus.

In a speech on Thursday, Biden voiced dismay that some Americans were refusing to take the vaccine amid a jump in cases and deaths from the virus largely driven by unvaccinated people.

“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,” he said.

Biden condemned what he called “pandemic politics”, saying that the new requirements aim to reduce the number of unvaccinated people in the US.

He said about 80 million eligible people  – out of a population of almost 330 million – have yet to have a single vaccine shot.

“I’m announcing that the Department of Labor is developing an emergency rule to require all employers with 100 or more employees that together employ over 80 million workers to ensure their workforces are fully vaccinated or show a negative test at least once a week,” Biden said.

In a separate statement, the White House said the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is developing the new rule. Businesses that do not comply with the regulation will face a fine of up to $14,000 for each time it is broken, the Reuters news agency and the Wall Street Journal newspaper reported.

Biden’s forceful action comes as the US and the world struggle to contain a resurgence of the virus.

After a dip in US infection rates early in the summer amid a mass vaccination campaign, the virus has been surging again over the past two months with the emergence of the highly contagious Delta variant.

Biden noted that some big corporations, including conservative media outlet Fox News, already require staff to be vaccinated.

The president also announced that all workers at medical facilities participating in federally subsidised healthcare programmes would be required to get inoculated – a provision that the White House says will cover 17 million people.

“If you’re seeking care at a health facility, you should be able to know that the people treating you are vaccinated – simple, straightforward, period,” Biden said.