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Biden vaccine mandates face first trial with federal workers

Biden vaccine mandates face first trial with federal workers.

WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden is pushing for a massive plan to require millions of private-sector employees to get vaccinated early next year. But first, you have to make sure that workers in your own federal government get the vaccine.

Approximately 4 million federal workers will be vaccinated by November 22 according to the president’s executive order. Some employees, like those in the White House, are almost all vaccinated.

But rates are lower in other federal agencies, particularly those related to law enforcement and intelligence, according to the agencies and union leaders.

And some hardy workers are digging, filing lawsuits, and protesting what they say is an unfair overreach by the White House.

The upcoming deadline is the first test of Biden’s momentum to force people to get vaccinated. Beyond the federal workers’ rule, another mandate targeting around 84 million private-sector workers will take effect in January, according to guidelines released last week.

On Saturday, a federal appeals court in Louisiana temporarily stopped the vaccine requirement for companies with 100 or more workers. The administration says it is confident the requirement will withstand legal challenges in part because its safety rules take precedence over state laws.

“The president and administration would not have implemented these requirements if they had not thought they were appropriate and necessary,” Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “And the administration is certainly prepared to defend them.”

If the mandates are successful, they could make the worst dent in new coronavirus cases since the vaccine first became available, especially with the news last week that children ages 5 to 11 can get the injection, making an additional 64 million people eligible.

But with two weeks left until the federal workers’ deadline, some union leaders representing employees say convincing the unvaccinated to change their minds is increasingly difficult.

“I got the vaccine in February, it was my own choice and I thought it would stop the virus,” said Corey Trammel, a correctional officer for the Bureau of Prisons and president of the local union in Louisiana. “But he hasn’t.

And now I have people who resign because they are tired of the government overreaching this, they do not want to receive the vaccine. People just don’t trust the government and they don’t trust this vaccine. ”

Vaccines have a proven safety record, backed by clinical trials and independent reviews showing that they are overwhelmingly effective in preventing serious illness and death from COVID-19. More than 222 million Americans have received at least one dose of vaccine, and more than 193 million are fully vaccinated. More than half of the world’s population has also received a vaccine.

Scientists have been battling vaccine anxiety since it was first licensed; An AP-NORC survey earlier this year found that a third of adults in the US were skeptical, despite assurances that the vaccine was safe and effective and few cases of serious side effects. About 70% of American adults are fully vaccinated, and 80% have received at least one dose of a vaccine.

Vaccines have been developed at uneven rates throughout the federal government.

Officials from Health and Human Services, the US Food and Drug Administration, and Housing and Urban Development said they were working to vaccinate their employees, but had no figures yet.

Various intelligence agencies had at least 20% of its workforce unvaccinated at the end of October, said US Rep. Chris Stewart, a Utah Republican who is a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Federal Association of Law Enforcement President Larry Cosme said there are about 31,000 members from 65 federal law enforcement agencies in the association and estimated that 60% of them have been vaccinated.

Homeland Security, a giant government department with more than 240,000 employees, was roughly 64% fully vaccinated at the end of last month. U.S. Customs and Border Protection has received at least 6,000 requests for medical or religious exemptions, according to the union that represents Border Patrol agents.

Federal agencies are warning employees about the next term, offering time off to receive the vaccine, and encouraging workers to comply. But they won’t be fired if they miss the November 22 deadline. They would receive “counseling” and would be given five days to start the vaccination process. Then they could be suspended for 14 days and could eventually be canceled, but that process would take months.

Republicans have argued that the mandate goes too far. Republicans on the House Oversight Committee sent a letter in late October suggesting that the president’s “extreme and authoritarian mandates violate American freedoms, are unprecedented, and ultimately may be considered illegal.”

In their letter, Representatives James Comer of Kentucky and Jody Hice of Georgia said they were concerned about a large number of government vacancies in the event that thousands of workers refused and were fired. That concern was also felt by those in the Bureau of Prisons, which was already understaffed.

A union of federal correctional officers in Florida filed a lawsuit last week over the mandate, saying it was a violation of civil rights. Some prison workers say they are torn by the vaccine, that they do not want to lose their livelihoods, but they are not willing to sacrifice their personal beliefs either. Officers approaching retirement age are contemplating leaving rather than continuing the vaccine.

A West Virginia prison worker texted a colleague that the worker was not up to being a guinea pig and wrote: “It would be different if it weren’t new. But it is. And I don’t want to be your experiment. ”

The worker, describing how distressing the decision had been, said: “I have cried and vomited so much that my eyes and stomach hurt.” The worker wondered if it was wrong to stand firm against the vaccine.

Border Patrol employees were ordered to confirm their vaccination status by Tuesday, according to union president Brandon Judd. As of Thursday, 49% of Border Patrol agents responded saying they were fully vaccinated and about 7% reported not being vaccinated, Judd said.

At this time, it is unclear how many will continue to refuse if they are not granted an exemption and face the loss of their job as a result.

“When it comes to losing their livelihood or getting vaccinated, I think the vast majority will eventually get vaccinated,” Judd said. “We are going to lose people. Many? I couldn’t really predict that.”

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