WASHINGTON — President Biden’s new coronavirus vaccination mandates prompted some backlash Thursday, but the two federal departments that already require vaccinations — as well as several states, cities and private-sector companies — say their mandates are already doing what they intended: getting more shots in arms.
Since the Pentagon announced last month that active-duty military personnel would be required to be vaccinated, the percentage of service members with at least one shot rose from 76 percent to 83 percent, according to Defense Department data.
At the Department of Veterans Affairs, which issued a vaccine mandate for its 115,000 frontline health care workers seven weeks ago, 82 percent of those employees are now fully vaccinated, up from 77 percent, and the number of shots it has given to all of its workers has more than doubled since early July, said Terrence Hayes, a spokesman for the department.
Since Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland said in mid-August that all employees at nursing homes and hospitals in the state would need to show proof of vaccination or adhere to rigorous testing for the virus, the number of workers at nursing homes who have received their first shot has risen from 79 percent to 84 percent.
After United Airlines announced last month that all of its roughly 67,000 U.S. employees must provide proof that they are vaccinated by Oct. 25 or face termination — the first major airline to issue such a mandate — more than half of employees who were unvaccinated have had shots, officials there said.
The increases elude the goal of getting virtually every employee vaccinated, although in the military, where troops have long been used to taking orders and avoiding voluntary actions, the numbers are expected to rise higher soon. Each service branch is working through its enforcement plan; once the Army makes its official announcement, those numbers are likely to increase, considering it is the largest branch of the military.
“The secretary of defense is giving commanders across the force the freedom to work through the vaccination process how they best see fit,” said Charlie Dietz, a Pentagon spokesman. “His hope is that they can sit down with those that refuse the vaccine and bring in medical professionals to clear up any misconceptions they may have.”
Military leaders had grown tired of vaccination rates that had stagnated for months. The low vaccination rate was threatening troop readiness, commanders said, and at the Department of Veterans Affairs, there was fear that vulnerable veterans would be sickened by workers, a concern at nursing homes and private hospitals as well.
“As the secretary has often echoed, complete success would be seeing every V.A. team member vaccinated,” Mr. Hayes said of Denis McDonough, the secretary for the department, who became increasingly alarmed this summer as the Delta variant marched through the nation and the number of sick veterans began to rise.
In July, the department became the first federal agency to require that employees be inoculated, and it has since expanded the mandate.
Understand Vaccine and Mask Mandates in the U.S.
- Vaccine rules. On Aug. 23, the Food and Drug Administration granted full approval to Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for people 16 and up, paving the way for an increase in mandates in both the public and private sectors. Private companies have been increasingly mandating vaccines for employees. Such mandates are legally allowed and have been upheld in court challenges.
- Mask rules. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July recommended that all Americans, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in indoor public places within areas experiencing outbreaks, a reversal of the guidance it offered in May. See where the C.D.C. guidance would apply, and where states have instituted their own mask policies. The battle over masks has become contentious in some states, with some local leaders defying state bans.
- College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities are requiring students to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Almost all are in states that voted for President Biden.
- Schools. Both California and New York City have introduced vaccine mandates for education staff. A survey released in August found that many American parents of school-age children are opposed to mandated vaccines for students, but were more supportive of mask mandates for students, teachers and staff members who do not have their shots.
- Hospitals and medical centers. Many hospitals and major health systems are requiring employees to get a Covid-19 vaccine, citing rising caseloads fueled by the Delta variant and stubbornly low vaccination rates in their communities, even within their work force.
- New York City. Proof of vaccination is required of workers and customers for indoor dining, gyms, performances and other indoor situations, although enforcement does not begin until Sept. 13. Teachers and other education workers in the city’s vast school system will need to have at least one vaccine dose by Sept. 27, without the option of weekly testing. City hospital workers must also get a vaccine or be subjected to weekly testing. Similar rules are in place for New York State employees.
- At the federal level. The Pentagon announced that it would seek to make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for the country’s 1.3 million active-duty troops “no later” than the middle of September. President Biden announced that all civilian federal employees would have to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements and restrictions on most travel.
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