Health

Biden’s team regroups after being defeated in court by vaccination or COVID test

Worried but not giving up, President Joe Biden is anxiously pushing for people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 after the Supreme Court put a hold on the administration’s massive plan to vaccinate or test large employers.

At a time when hospitals are overflowing and a record number of people are being infected with the omicron variant, the administration is hoping that states and companies will order their own vaccination or testing requirements. And if the presidential “aggressor pulpit” is still considered a means of persuasion, Biden intends to use it.

While some in the business community cheered the failure of the mandate, Biden insisted the administration’s efforts had not been in vain. Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling “doesn’t stop me from using my voice as president to advocate for employers to do the right thing to protect the health and economy of Americans,” he said.

A conservative majority in the court all but rejected the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s demand that employers with 100 or more employees require their workers to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or tested weekly. However, he upheld the vaccination requirement for healthcare workers.

Meanwhile, the White House announced on Friday that a federal website where Americans can request their own free COVID-19 tests will begin accepting orders next Wednesday. These tests may motivate some people to get vaccinated, and the administration is aiming to address the shortage of vaccines across the country. Supplies will be limited to just four free home tests.

Website to order free COVID tests from federal government to launch next week

On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that OSHA appeared to have overstepped its authority of Congress to enforce occupational standards, saying, “While COVID-19 is a risk that occurs in many workplaces, in most cases it is not an occupational hazard.”

The mandate was announced in September last year and has been accompanied by Biden’s scathing criticism of the estimated 80 million American adults who have not yet been vaccinated.

“We have been patient. But our patience is wearing thin and your refusal has cost us all,” he said. The unvaccinated minority, he said, “can do a lot of harm, and that’s the way it is.”

In a statement following the Supreme Court decision, Biden expressed disappointment with the outcome but said the mandates had already had the desired effect of reducing the number of unvaccinated adults.

“Today, that number is less than 35 million,” he said of the unvaccinated. “If my administration had not put in place vaccination requirements, we would now be facing a higher number of deaths from COVID-19 and even more hospitalizations.”

While the court left open the possibility for the US to seek more focused mandates, White House officials said there are no plans to seek a revision of the ruling anytime soon.

“It is now up to states and individual employers to introduce vaccination requirements,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday.

According to Lawrence Gostin, a public health law expert at Georgetown University, the United States is already “wasting away” with a 60% vaccination rate.

“The OSHA rule was really the president’s last chance to significantly increase vaccination rates,” Gostin said. But the court “deliberately tried in a very biased way to handcuff the president to do what he needed to do.” ‘

Many large businesses that have already introduced vaccination or testing requirements have said they have no intention of changing course. But smaller companies said they breathed a sigh of relief, fearing a shortage of workers if the OSHA rule goes into effect.

The Supreme Court decision “lifted a small burden of worry off our shoulders,” said Kyle Caraway, director of marketing for Doolittle Trailer Manufacturing, who has joined the Missouri attorney general’s lawsuit challenging Biden’s policies. About 90% of the 175 employees at Holts Summit, Missouri, said they would refuse to comply with vaccination requirements, he said.

“It became clear to us that our team would be severely reduced overnight if this vaccination mandate went into effect,” said Caraway, who identified himself with those who oppose Biden’s policies. Stopping production could force the company to “consider closing our doors,” he said.

The International Union of Service Workers, which represents more than 2 million workers, said the court decision came as a relief to healthcare workers but left others without critical protection.

“By blocking a vaccination or testing rule for major employers, the court has put millions of other essential workers at even greater risk, succumbing to corporations that are trying to continually falsify rules against workers,” the union said.

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The union called on Congress and states to pass laws requiring vaccinations, masks and paid sick leave. Workers also need better access to testing and safety equipment, the union said.

The renewed debate over mandatory vaccination comes as a record number of Americans are hospitalized with COVID-19, the country is averaging nearly 800,000 new cases and 1,700 deaths per day, and vaccine resistance remains a problem, especially in such deeply conservative states like Mississippi. Alabama, Wyoming and Idaho, where less than half of the population is fully vaccinated.

Hospitals across the country are suffering from chronic understaffing and are being bombarded by people arriving in emergency rooms in need of tests for the virus. National Guard troops have been deployed in dozens of states to provide relief at medical centers, nursing homes and training grounds.

A hospital on the outskirts of Kansas City has been forced to borrow ventilators from Missouri’s stockpile and hunt for extra high-flow oxygen machines, with Kansas’s largest county saying Friday it again runs out of morgue space.

Gostin predicted that the court’s actions would have a major impact on the efforts of other federal public health agencies, as it ruled that OSHA could not regulate something that could have huge economic consequences without the express permission of Congress. And he said the states would not be able to offset the effect of the ruling.

“If COVID has taught us anything, it’s that the states cannot solve big and serious problems, cannot prevent the pathogen from moving from Florida to New York,” he said. “These are national problems requiring federal solutions.”

Psaki said the White House will work with businesses to promote the benefits of vaccination or testing requirements, and that Biden will highlight successful programs.

“The court ruled that my administration cannot use the authority granted to it by Congress to demand this measure,” Biden said. Therefore, “I urge business leaders to immediately join those who have already stepped up, including a third of the Fortune 100 companies, and introduce vaccination requirements to protect their workers, customers and society.”


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