November 4, 2021 – The Biden administration on Thursday unveiled its rule requiring most of the country’s larger employers to order workers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, but set a deadline of January 4, to keep busy to avoid holiday season.
The White House also moved the timelines for earlier mandates that applied to federal workers and contractors to January 4th. And the same deadline applies to a new separate rule for health care workers.
The new rules are intended to prevent “any conflicting state or local laws”, including bans and restrictions on employers’ authority to require vaccination, masks or testing, the White House said in a statement.
The rule on employers of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration will apply to organizations with 100 or more employees. These employers will need to make sure each worker is vaccinated at least weekly or tested for COVID-19. The OSHA rule will also require employers to provide paid time for employees to be vaccinated and ensure that all unvaccinated workers have a face mask in the workplace. This rule will cover 84 million employees. The OSHA rule will not apply to workplaces covered by either the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) rule or the federal contractor vaccination requirement
“The virus will not go away on its own, or because we wish it away: we must act,” President Joe Biden said in a statement. “Vaccination is the single best way out of this pandemic. ”
Mandates were not the preferred route to manage the pandemic, he said.
“Too many people remain unvaccinated for us to get out of this pandemic for good,” he said. “So I set requirements – and they work.”
The White House said 70 percent of American adults were now fully vaccinated, up from less than 1 percent when Biden was appointed in January.
The CMS vaccine rule is intended to cover more than 17 million workers and approximately 76,000 medical care sites, including hospitals, outpatient surgery centers, nursing homes, dialysis facilities, home health agencies and long-term care facilities. The rule will apply to employees whether or not their positions involve patient care.
Unlike the OSHA mandate, the one for healthcare professionals does not offer the option of regular COVID-19 testing instead of vaccination. There is a “higher bar” for health care workers, given their role in treating patients, so the mandate allows only vaccination or limited exemptions, a senior administration official said Wednesday night during a call with reporters.
The CMS rule includes a “series of remedies”, including fines and refusal to pay for healthcare facilities that do not comply with the vaccine mandate. CMS could theoretically cut off hospitals and other medical organizations for failing to comply, but that would be a “last resort,” a senior administration official said. CMS would rather work with healthcare facilities to help them comply with the federal rule on vaccination of medical workers.
The new CMS rules apply only to Medicare and Medicaid certified centers and organizations. The rule does not apply directly to other healthcare entities, such as doctor’s offices, which are not regulated by CMS.
“Most states have separate licensing requirements for healthcare professionals and healthcare providers that will apply to physician office staff and other staff in small healthcare organizations who are not subject to vaccination requirements under this IFC,” CMS said as a rule.