President Biden sought to reframe the issue of vaccines as a workplace safety issue as he announced plans Thursday to require employers with 100 or more workers to mandate COVID shots for workers.
Why it matters: The vaccine mandates unveiled as part of Biden's six-pronged COVID-19 response plan extend to federal workers and much of the health care workforce. They could impact about 100 million workers.
Between the lines: "By asking people to be vaccinated before they return back to work, by acting as an employer, as a large federal employer, what they were doing was creating safe work spaces," said Ashish K. Jha, dean of Brown University's School of Public Health.
- The extension of vaccine mandates to health organizations that get federal funding is aimed at further extending those safe spaces for patients, particularly the immunocompromised, he said.
The new rule for employers, to be developed by the Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), is "a very big deal," Devjani Mishra, a leader of employment law firm Littler Mendelson's COVID-19 task force.
- "There's going to be a lot to unpack. A lot of it will deal with specifically what OSHA ends up putting in this standard, what their timeline is going to be, what they plan to achieve and what they are required to achieve under this plan," Mishra said.
- It raises questions about costs and administrative burdens relating to the testing option, as well as requirements that employees be offered paid time off for vaccination, she said.
- Republicans have vowed to fight the plan to mandate COVID-19 vaccination or testing for more than 80 million private sector employees.
What to watch: Vaccine exemptions may end up being a bigger deal than employers, and the feds, are anticipating. Larger than expected numbers have already been seeking — or even purchasing "proof" online of — such religious and medical exemptions to vaccine mandates.
Go deeper: Our thought bubbles on Biden's COVID mandates