COVID-19 vaccines or weekly tests to be mandated for millions of U.S. workers

More than 80 million employees of private businesses will be required to get mandated as the Biden administration requires federal contractors and health care workers to be vaccinated.


State News

September 10, 2021 - 2:58 PM

Syringes are prepped with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine before being administered at Richmond Raceway in Richmond, Va., February 2, 2021. Photo by (Parker Michels-Boyce/ For the Virginia Mercury)

WASHINGTON — More than 80 million employees of private businesses in the U.S. will be required to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo weekly testing as part of the Biden administration’s latest strategy for combating the still-surging coronavirus pandemic.

The upcoming vaccine rule for companies with at least 100 employees is one plank of an increasingly aggressive effort by President Joe Biden and his administration to ensure Americans are protected against the virus. Biden is set to roll out his six-pronged strategy Thursday afternoon.

In a briefing for reporters ahead of Biden’s speech, senior administration officials previewed those new tactics. They will include more vaccine requirements for other settings as well, including for the vast majority of federal employees and contractors, and the 17 million health care workers at facilities participating in the federal Medicare and Medicaid health insurance programs.

The White House also will try to make at-home testing more accessible; push to vaccinate the 10% of school teachers and staffers who are not vaccinated; extend the federal mask requirement on planes through Jan. 18; and offer more clinicians to support COVID-19-burdened hospitals in states with too little capacity to treat a surge in patients.

Those strategies come as the country is averaging 150,000 new COVID-19 infections each day, a massive spike from the weekly average of 12,000 cases on July 4, when Biden told Americans that the U.S. was “closer than ever to declaring our independence from a deadly virus.”

Since then, states across the country have struggled to keep up with hospitals that are filled to capacity. The vast majority of those patients are among the nearly 80 million Americans eligible to be vaccinated but who have not yet gotten their first shot.

Require vaccines or face fines

All together, the new vaccine requirements that Biden is set to outline would affect about 100 million workers, or two-thirds of all workers in the U.S., according to a senior administration official.

The requirement for businesses will be enacted through a new rule in the coming weeks from the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA.

That rule will require all employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their workforce is fully vaccinated, or to require any workers who remain unvaccinated to produce a negative test result on at least a weekly basis before coming to work, according to a summary released by the administration.

Employees would have time to get a vaccine if they have not done so already, likely in line with the 75 days that federal employees will have to get the one- or two-shot vaccines.

Any companies that do not enforce the rule could be issued fines of up to nearly $14,000 per violation, according to a senior Biden official.

Some of the country’s largest corporations, from Tyson Foods to United Airlines, already have announced their own vaccination requirements, and 21 states have some form of vaccine mandate in place, covering state employees, nursing home workers, staffers in schools, or some combination of those employment settings, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

But the requirement still is expected to face intense opposition, particularly in places with high levels of vaccine resistance. At least 11 states have passed some version of a law prohibiting vaccine requirements, according to KFF.

School safety, testing availability