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Joe Biden. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Members of the military will be required to get vaccinations or face regular testing, social distancing, mask mandates and restrictions on travel for work, the the Pentagon said on Thursday evening.

Why it matters: The policy was announced for federal workers and onsite contractors earlier on Thursday, part of several new Biden initiatives to get more Americans vaccinated and slow the spread of the Delta variant.

  • The plan outlines aggressive next steps from the federal government as COVID-19 cases surge across the country due to the contagious Delta variant and as demand for vaccines has tapered off.

Driving the news: The new initiatives include:

  • Requiring federal workers, military members and onsite contractors to declare their vaccination status. Those not fully vaccinated will be required to wear face masks at work, get tested 1-2 times per week, socially distance, and won't be allowed to travel for work.
    • Biden added his team was looking into applying similar rules for all federal contractors. "If you want to do business with the federal government, get your workers vaccinated," he said.
  • Directing the Department of Defense to look into adding COVID-19 vaccination to the list of mandatory inoculations for people in the military.
  • Expanding paid leave for families to get vaccinated by reimbursing small-and-medium sized businesses who allow their employees and their families to get paid time off for vaccinations.
  • Calling on states, territories, and local governments to offer $100 to newly vaccinated individuals, as an additional vaccine incentive.
  • Increasing vaccination rates among teens by calling on pharmacies to hold pop-up vaccination clinics at schools and colleges.

The big picture: Biden stated that the country is experiencing a "pandemic of the unvaccinated."

  • Biden added that currently booster shots are not needed but that this could change in the future. He also noted that the U.S. has enough doses to provide boosters if they become necessary.
  • He addressed vaccine hesitancy among some and commended Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for encouraging people to get vaccinated.
  • Asked about vaccine mandates, Biden noted that it's "still a question whether the federal government can mandate the whole country" to get inoculated.
  • Biden called the abundant vaccine supply in the U.S a "blessing" which would be a "shame to squander."

What he's saying: "Masking is one defense against the spread of COVID-19. But make no mistake. Vaccines are the best defense against you getting severely ill from COVID-19. The very best defense," Biden said.

  • "The decision to be unvaccinated impacts someone else. Unvaccinated people spread the virus. They get sick and fill up our hospitals and that means if someone else has a heart attack or breaks a hip, there may not be a hospital bed for them," Biden warned.
  • "Get vaccinated for yourself, for the people you love, for your country."

Go deeper

19 hours ago - Health

America has fallen behind on vaccinations

Data: Our World in Data; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

The U.S. has fallen from the top of the world's list of most-vaccinated countries, largely due to the substantial percentage of Americans who don't want the vaccine.

What we're watching: Vaccine mandates are becoming much more common in the U.S., and children under 12 will likely become eligible for vaccines within the next few months — both of which should help boost the vaccination rate here.

19 hours ago - Health

We're the architects of our own COVID destiny

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

We're almost certainly going to have to live with the coronavirus, in some form, for the foreseeable future. But what that means will be shaped in large part by what we do now.

Why it matters: More than half of the world — and a substantial portion of Americans — remains unvaccinated. Getting these rates up could mean the difference between the virus becoming a back-burner nuisance, or something that continues to define our lives for years to come.

19 hours ago - Health

Long COVID: A disabling disease

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Millions of Americans are still suffering from a wide spectrum of symptoms long after they've recovered from their original coronavirus infections, and it's very unclear what the disease's trajectory is — or even how many people are affected.

What we're watching: We still don't have a good grasp on how susceptible vaccinated people are to long COVID. If the condition remains a threat even for the vaccinated, that could shape the risks people are willing to take in the future.