For The Record

Biden to require COVID-19 vaccines for federal employees and contractors, reports say

By: - September 9, 2021 2:15 pm

More than 82,000 Georgia-based federal employees could be required to get a COVID-19 vaccination soon, including more than 32,000 in the CDC’s home base in Atlanta. Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Federal employees will be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 with no opt-out for testing under an executive order that President Joe Biden is expected to sign Thursday, according to several news outlets.

The new requirement will be rolled out as Biden gives a major address Thursday afternoon on new national strategies for combating the coronavirus pandemic and surging cases from the delta variant of that virus.

Those new tactics are expected to include expanded testing and steps to aid schools in keeping their doors open.

Early reports from the New York TimesCNN, and other news sources differed on whether the vaccine mandate would cover all or nearly all of the roughly 2 million federal employees. It’s also expected to include the millions of employees of private contractors that do business with the federal government.

The new vaccine requirement will affect thousands of employees in Washington D.C. and many states like Georgia with a large federal government presence, including military installations. About 72,000 federal employees live in Georgia, 127,000 live in Virginia and another 115,000 reside in Maryland, according to data from the Office of Personnel and Management.

Those states also are home to many major government contractors, including some of the nation’s largest defense contractors.

The city with the third-largest population of federal employees, according to OPM, is Atlanta — home to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among other federal offices  that total more than 32,000 workers.

Biden has limited authority to require COVID-19 vaccines. But his administration already has enacted requirements on the military and workers at the Department of Veterans Affairs. He previously pushed federal workers to get vaccinated by announcing that those who refused would have to undergo regular coronavirus testing.

The president of the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest union representing federal employees, said in a statement ahead of Biden’s announcement that the union has strongly encouraged members to get vaccinated, but that any changes like what Biden was set to announce should be negotiated with bargaining units where appropriate.

“We expect to bargain over this change prior to implementation, and we urge everyone who is able to get vaccinated as soon as they can do so,” AFGE president Everett Kelley said in the statement.

The president also has directed nursing homes to ensure their staffers are vaccinated against COVID-19, or risk losing federal Medicare and Medicaid dollars,

Across the country, states have taken a range of approaches to vaccine mandates. Twenty-one states have some sort of mandate in place, covering state employees, nursing home workers, staffers in schools, or some combination of those employment settings, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Georgia’s governor recently restated that he has no plans for the state to mandate vaccines while he also strongly encourages people to get COVID-19 shots.

At least 11 states have passed laws prohibiting vaccine requirements by state or local governments.

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Laura Olson
Laura Olson

Laura covers the nation's capital as a senior reporter for States Newsroom, a network of nonprofit outlets that includes Georgia Recorder. Her areas of coverage include politics and policy, lobbying, elections, and campaign finance.