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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

Sep 15, 2021 - Health

Pfizer says data suggests COVID vaccine boosters are warranted

A nurse administering a booster shot of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine on Aug. 19 in Pasadena, Calif. Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images

Pfizer told the FDA Wednesday that data from its clinical trials suggests a third shot of its coronavirus vaccine may be necessary six months after the second dose because of waning efficacy.

Why it matters: The FDA's advisory committee on Friday is expected to review Pfizer's clinical trials and other supporting and conflicting data on coronavirus booster shots and make recommendations on whether more Americans 16 years and older should receive an extra dose.

Updated Sep 10, 2021 - Axios Events

Watch: A conversation on what's working to get Americans vaccinated

On Friday, September 10, Axios health care reporter Caitlin Owens and health care editor Tina Reed hosted a virtual conversation on what strategies are working to get Americans vaccinated, featuring former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb and Walgreens Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kevin Ban.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb spoke about reducing vaccine hesitancy, an increase of COVID-19 cases in conjunction with the return to school, and how to ensure the effective distribution of booster shots when the time comes.

  • On why reducing hesitancy is more difficult in the later stages of vaccine rollout: “We’re at that point right now where every vaccine is harder to administer, because you’re probably trying to entice a consumer who is more reluctant to take the vaccine or finds it less accessible for a variety of reasons.”
  • On the recent rise in cases in younger populations returning to school: “Studies have looked at what are the most effective interventions—keeping kids in defined social pods within the school so you’re not having the entire grade commingling...and also implementing routine testing of asymptomatic children, ideally twice a week.”

Dr. Kevin Ban explained Walgreens’ decision to mandate vaccination for some employees, what has been working to increase vaccination, and the potential hurdles of administering booster shots.

  • On Walgreens’ thought process behind implementing an employee vaccine mandate: “Collectively as a group, we have followed the science since the beginning of this epidemic. And along with the effectiveness of these vaccines, we’ve noted the safety. And so collectively, as a leadership team, we thought that the right thing to do here was to, in fact, mandate vaccines.”
  • On the effectiveness of local outreach in vaccination efforts: “Meeting people where they are and listening to them and trying to understand what is it that’s preventing you, and then addressing that, is powerful. It’s hard to do across the country, but you can do it locally.”

In a final Why It Matters segment, Axios' Caitlin Owens and Tina Reed echoed similar curiosities about the impending rollout of booster shots, and raised the question of how the process may mirror or differ from that of the initial vaccine distribution.

Tune in next month for October's Vitals Check-Up.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Vaccines: Los Angeles County to require vaccination proof at indoor bars — France suspends 3,000 unvaccinated health workers without pay — Moderna suggests booster shots, citing clinical data.
  2. Health: 1 in 500 Americans has died — Cases are falling, but deaths are rising — Study: Gaps in data on Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders alarming amid COVID.
  3. Politics: Gottlieb says CDC hampered U.S. response — 26 states have limited state or local officials' public health powers — Axios-Ipsos poll: 60% of voters back Biden vaccine mandates.
  4. Education: Denver looks to students to close Latino vaccination gap — Federal judge temporarily blocks Iowa's ban on mask mandates in schools — Massachusetts activates National Guard to help with school transportation.
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.