US president Joe Biden on Thursday championed Covid-19 vaccination requirements, determined that the roughly 67 million unvaccinated American adults must receive the shot even as he acknowledged that mandates were not his “first instinct”.
Mr Biden had ruled out such requirements before taking office in January, but they now are a tactic he feels forced into using by a stubborn slice of the public that has refused to be inoculated and has thus jeopardised the lives of others and the nation’s economic recovery.
“There is no other way to beat the pandemic than to get the vast majority of the American people vaccinated,” Mr Biden said in suburban Chicago at an event promoting the mandates.
“While I didn’t race to do it right away, that’s why I’ve had to move toward requirements.”
In the coming weeks, more than 100 million Americans will be subject to vaccine requirements ordered by Mr Biden. And his administration is encouraging employers to take additional steps voluntarily that would push vaccines on people or subject them to onerous testing requirements.
Forcing people to do something they do not want to do is rarely a winning political strategy. Yet with the majority of the country already vaccinated and with industry on his side, Biden has emerged as an unlikely advocate of browbeating tactics to drive vaccinations.
“Look, I know that vaccination requirements are a tough medicine — unpopular to some, politics for others — but they’re lifesaving, they’re game-changing for our country,” Mr Biden said.
But the requirements have drawn widespread public support. People are hoping to put behind them a pandemic that has taken the lives of more than 700,000 in the US, and businesses see vaccinations as a road map toward a revitalised economy.
Mr Biden took that message to a construction site run by Clayco, a large building firm that announced a new vaccinate-or-test requirement for its workforce in conjunction with his visit.
The company is taking action weeks before a forthcoming rule by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that will require all employers with more than 100 employees to require that their staffs be vaccinated or face weekly testing for the coronavirus.
“You’re setting an example and a powerful example,” Mr Biden told company officials. “I’m calling on more employers to act.”
Mr Biden encouraged other businesses to follow suit by taking action before the OSHA rule and to go even further by requiring shots for their employees without offering a test-out option.
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