Concerned but not giving up, President Joe Biden eagerly urges people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 after Supreme Court halts administration’s sweeping vaccination or testing plan for large employers .
At a time when hospitals are overwhelmed and record numbers of people are infected with the omicron variant, the administration hopes states and companies will order their own vaccination or testing requirements. And if the presidential “bullying pulpit” still counts for persuasion, Biden intends to use it.
While some in the business community cheered the defeat of the term, Biden insisted the administration’s effort was not wasted. Thursday’s High Court ruling “does not preclude me from using my voice as president to call on employers to do what is necessary to protect the health and economy of Americans,” he said. declared.
The court’s conservative majority all but rejected the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s requirement that employers with 100 or more employees require their workers to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or tested weekly. However, it left in place a vaccination requirement for healthcare workers.
Meanwhile, the White House announced Friday that the federal website where Americans can request their own free COVID-19 tests will begin accepting orders next Wednesday. Those tests could motivate some people to get vaccinated, and the administration is looking to address nationwide shortages. Supplies will be limited to just four free tests per household.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that OSHA appears to be overstepping its congressional authority to implement occupational standards, saying, “While COVID-19 is a hazard that occurs in many workplaces, it is not not an occupational hazard in most.”
The mandate was announced last September, accompanied by harsh criticism from Biden for the roughly 80 million American adults who had yet to be vaccinated.
“We have been patient. But our patience is running out and your refusal has cost us all,” he said. The unvaccinated minority, he said, “can do a lot of damage, and it does.”
In a statement after the Supreme Court ruling, Biden expressed disappointment with the outcome, but said the mandates have already had the desired effect in reducing the number of unvaccinated adults.
“Today that number is down to less than 35 million,” he said of the unvaccinated. “If my administration had not implemented vaccination requirements, we would now have a higher number of deaths from COVID-19 and even more hospitalizations.”
While the court left open the possibility of the United States pursuing more targeted warrants, White House officials said there were no immediate plans to seek an overhaul of the regulations.
“It is now up to states and individual employers to put in place vaccination requirements,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday.
The United States is already “sluggish,” with a 60% vaccination rate, near the low of peer countries, said Lawrence Gostin, a public health law expert at Georgetown University.
“The OSHA rule was really the president’s last best chance to dramatically increase the vaccination rate,” Gostin said. But the court, “in a very partisan way, intentionally tried to handcuff the president to do what he needs to do.”
Many large companies that already had vaccination or testing requirements in place have indicated they have no plans to reverse course. But small businesses said they breathed a sigh of relief, fearing labor shortages if the OSHA rule was allowed to go into effect.
The Supreme Court’s ruling “removed the burden of our worries a little bit,” said Kyle Caraway, marketing manager at Doolittle Trailer Manufacturing, who joined a Missouri attorney general’s lawsuit challenging Biden’s policy. . About 90% of the 175 employees at the Missouri-based Holts Summit company had indicated they would refuse to comply with a vaccination requirement, he said.
“It became clear to us that our team was going to drastically shrink overnight if this vaccine mandate was put in place,” said Caraway, who was among those who opposed Biden’s policies. The halt in production could have forced the company “to consider closing our doors”, he said.
The Service Employees International Union, which represents more than 2 million workers, said the court’s ruling was a relief for healthcare workers but left others without essential protections.
“By blocking the vaccine or test rule for large employers, the court has put millions of other essential workers at even greater risk, giving in to companies trying to rig the rules against workers permanently,” said the syndicate.
The union has called on Congress and states to pass laws requiring vaccinations, masks and paid sick leave. Workers also need better access to testing and protective equipment, the union said.
Renewed debate over vaccination mandates comes as record numbers of Americans are hospitalized with COVID-19, the country is averaging nearly 800,000 new cases and 1,700 deaths per day and vaccine resistance remains an issue , especially in deeply conservative states like Mississippi, Alabama, Wyoming and Idaho where less than half the population is fully vaccinated.
Hospitals across the country are suffering from chronic staff shortages and are being bombarded with people showing up at the emergency room to need virus tests. National Guard troops have been activated in dozens of states to assist medical centers, nursing homes and testing sites.
A hospital on the outskirts of the Kansas City area had to borrow ventilators from Missouri state stock and seek out more high-flow oxygen machines, and Kansas’ largest county said on Friday it was short of supplies. space in the morgue – again.
Gostin predicted that the court’s action would have a serious bearing on the efforts of other federal agencies to protect public health, deciding that OSHA cannot regulate something that would have a huge economic impact without the explicit permission of the Congress. And he said states would not be able to offset the impact of the decision.
“If COVID has taught us anything, it’s taught us that states can’t face big, daring problems, can’t stop a pathogen from going from Florida to New York,” he said. declared. “These are national problems that require federal solutions. ”
PSAKI said the White House would work with companies to promote the benefits of vaccination or testing requirements and that Biden would highlight successful programs.
“The Court has ruled that my administration cannot use the authority granted to it by Congress to require this action,” Biden said. “I therefore call on business leaders to immediately join those who have already stepped up – including a third of Fortune 100 companies – and institute vaccination requirements to protect their workers, customers and communities.
David A. Lieb in Jefferson City, Missouri, and Lindsay Tanner in Chicago contributed.