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President Biden speaks on workers rights and labor unions in the East Room at the White House on September 08, 2021. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

President Biden on Thursday signed executive orders requiring most federal employees to get the COVID vaccine, without the option of getting regular testing instead.

Why it matters: The orders go further than the Biden administration's previously announced policy, which required federal workers to be vaccinated or follow other rigorous safety protocols, including regular testing.

Driving the news: "The expectation is if you want to work in the federal government or be a contractor, you need to be vaccinated," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday.

  • Federal employees will have about 75 days to get fully vaccinated from the time the executive order is signed, Psaki said.
  • The vaccine requirement will include exemptions for individuals with disabilities and objections on religious grounds.

The big picture: Biden also extended the mandate to employees of contractors that do business with the federal government.

  • The Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Indian Health Service and the National Institute of Health will complete their previously announced vaccination requirements, which cover about 2.5 million people, per a source familiar with the plans.
  • The Department of Labor will require employers to give employees paid time off to get vaccinated.
  • Workers in hospitals, home health care facilities and other medical facilities will also be mandated to get the vaccine — a total of 17 million people.
  • The announcement comes amid a surge in cases and hospitalizations largely driven by the Delta variant.
  • The administration is also committing $2 billion to purchase nearly 300 million rapid tests for distribution to community health centers, food banks, schools, etc. 

What he's saying: "This is not about freedom or personal choice," Biden said in a national address on Thursday. "It is about protecting yourself and those around you, the people you work with, the people you care about, the people you love."

  • "What makes it incredibly more frustrating is we have the tools to combat covid-19 and a distinct minority of Americans supported by a distinct minority of officials are keeping us from turning the corner," he said.
    • "These pandemic politics, as I refer to it, are making people sick, causing unvaccinated people to die."
  • "My message to unvaccinated Americans is this: what more is there to wait for?" he added. "We've been patient but our patience is wearing thin and your refusal has cost all of us. So, please, do the right thing."
  • "Listen to the voices of unvaccinated Americans who are lying in hospital beds taking their final breath saying, 'If only I had gotten vaccinated.' It is a tragedy. Please don't let it become yours."

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details.

Go deeper

Biden threatens new sanctions against Ethiopian officials over Tigray conflict

Photo: Al Drago/Getty Images

President Biden on Friday signed an executive order allowing the Treasury and State departments to impose sanctions against Ethiopian officials "responsible for, or complicit in, prolonging the conflict" in the Tigray region.

Driving the news: Hundreds of thousands of people are facing famine conditions in Tigray, but less than 10% of the needed humanitarian supplies has reached the region over the last month "due to the obstruction of aid access" by the Ethiopian government, according to Biden administration officials.

The Exvangelicals

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Even as evangelicals maintain their position as the most popular religion in the U.S., a movement of self-described "exvangelicals" is breaking away, using social media to engage tens of thousands of former faithful.

The big picture: Donald Trump's presidency, as well as movements around LGBTQ rights, #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, drew more Americans into evangelical churches while also pushing some existing members away.

Updated 7 hours ago - Science

Huge wildfire reaches edge of Sequoia National Park

A plume of smoke and flames rise into the air as the fire burns towards Moro Rock during the KNP Complex fire in the Sequoia National Park near Three Rivers, California, on Saturday. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

Firefighters in Sequoia National Park were working into the night after two wildfires merged to reach the Giant Forest Saturday.

Why it matters: This forest contains over 2,000 giant sequoias, including the General Sherman Tree — the world's largest tree by volume. Park officials wrapped the redwoods in foil last week as the Paradise and Colony Fires, now known as the KNP Complex Fire, neared. Protection efforts appeared to be working overnight.