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Biden COVID vaccine mandate: Which US workers need proof of vaccination?

President Biden's federal vaccine mandate for large businesses starts next week. Learn which workers will be affected.

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The imminent COVID-19 vaccine mandate will require many US workers to prove their vaccination status.

Sarah Tew/CNET
For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO and CDC websites.

The US federal mandate for COVID-19 vaccines will go into effect on Jan. 10 unless the US Supreme Court decides to declare it unconstitutional -- the court discussed oral arguments for four hours Friday, but did not reach a decision. The vaccination requirement will apply to workers in all US private companies with 100 or more employees. 

While the Supreme Court's decision hangs in the balance, many states and cities have already implemented vaccine requirements for government workers and contractors. All Philadelphia city workers must be vaccinated by Jan. 14. On Friday, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul joined California and New Mexico in creating a booster mandate for all state health care workers.

In addition to mandates for government workers, municipalities are enforcing vaccine mandates for public spaces. Boston Mayor Michelle Wu recently declare "B Together," a plan requiring proof of vaccination for all patrons of Boston's indoor dining, fitness and entertainment facilities, starting on Jan 15. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced similar COVID-19 vaccine requirements for the Windy City.

The local and state mandates seem to be working. In the US, 78.8% of people 5 and older have had at least one dose, as of Jan. 7.

President Joe Biden is aiming to have an additional 84 million Americans vaccinated for the coronavirus. More than 832,000 people in the US have died from COVID-19, and vaccination rates have slowed despite the deadly delta variant and the surge of the omicron variant.

We'll explain who would be required to get COVID-19 vaccines under the new administration plan. If you're already fully vaccinated and waiting to get a booster shot, the Food and Drug Administration has authorized mixing boosters for those who are eligible. You can text this number to make a booster shot appointment and get a free ride. Also, here's the latest on vaccines for kids, how to retrieve your vaccination card if you lost it and Pfizer's antiviral pill.

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Everyone affected by the COVID-19 vaccine requirements

Announcing "a new plan to require more Americans to be vaccinated to combat those blocking public health," Biden on Sept. 9 rolled out his administration's Path Out of the Pandemic program, which aims to increase the vaccination rate by requiring shots across public and private sectors. 

Here's who would be required to be vaccinated under the plan:

  • Employers with 100 or more employees will be required to have workers either be fully vaccinated or get tested weekly to come to work (at-home tests will be free starting late January). Biden said the Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration would implement requirements that will affect 84 million workers.
  • Federal workers and employees of contractors that do business with the federal government will be required to be vaccinated, though they won't be penalized for not getting the vaccine until Jan. 10. Nov. 22 was the deadline for them to get the vaccine.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services will require vaccinations in Head Start programs, as well as schools run by the Department of Defense and the Bureau of Indian Education. 
  • Workers in health care facilities that receive Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements, including hospitals and home health agencies, will also have to be fully vaccinated.
  • Individuals applying to become lawful permanent US residents must be fully vaccinated, according to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services

The strategy also calls on state officials to make vaccinations mandatory for teachers and school staff. And the president called on entertainment venues to require proof of vaccination or a negative test to enter their facilities. The administration is also upping fines for those who fail to wear masks on airplanes, trains and buses. 

Who's opposed to the mandate? 

Since the White House announced federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates affecting roughly two-thirds of the US workforce, or up to 100 million people, it has received a backlash from congressional Republicans, as well as state and local officials. 

Republican governors have threatened to fight the administration's new policies. Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the senior Republican on the House of Representatives committee overseeing health policy, said Biden "is using fear, control and mandates." The Republican National Committee has vowed to sue the Biden administration over the vaccine mandate.

In November, 10 states sued the Biden administration in response to the vaccine requirement for health workers. Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a Republican, requested a restraining order to block the federal vaccine mandate.

A Sept. 17 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that unvaccinated people were over 10 times more likely to become hospitalized or die from COVID-19, according to data from April through July: "Getting vaccinated protects against severe illness from COVID-19, including the delta variant."

Some companies that fall under the new vaccine mandate are facing challenges and questions about compliance and implementation of the policy, according to the Wall Street Journal. For example, businesses have to figure out who will be responsible for covering the cost of testing unvaccinated employees and whether they can authorize exemptions. 

Some companies with employee vaccination requirements 

Several companies have announced plans for mandatory vaccinations, including airlines, cruise lines, concert halls, health care facilities and restaurants. Some of the requirements may include mask and testing guidelines, and some may only apply to employees traveling internationally, working in the office or having face-to-face interactions with customers. If any of these applies to you, check with your employer for more details. 

Here are some of the companies that have announced vaccination requirements for employees:

  • Amtrak
  • AT&T
  • DoorDash
  • Facebook
  • Ford
  • General Electric
  • Google
  • IBM
  • Lyft
  • McDonald's
  • Microsoft
  • NBCUniversal
  • Netflix
  • Salesforce
  • Southwest Airlines
  • Twitter
  • Tyson Foods
  • Uber
  • United Airlines
  • Walgreens
  • Walmart

Vaccine requirements for those in the US military and police 

In August, the Pentagon said (PDF) that all 1.3 million active-duty service members will need to receive COVID-19 vaccinations. The directive covers all active-duty members of the Armed Forces or in the Ready Reserve, including the National Guard. The Department of Defense will make Pfizer shots accessible on military installations around the world. Service members who received the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines will still be considered fully vaccinated. There are some exemptions, including one for religious reasons, but they aren't granted frequently

In response to several cities requiring law enforcement officers to get vaccinated, police associations have come out openly against vaccine mandates. In Oregon, for example, police and firefighter associations are suing to block a state-level vaccine requirement. 

Right now, members of the military are already required to get at least nine other vaccines -- and possibly up to 17 in total -- depending on where they're deployed.

Many cities, states and universities already have vaccine mandates 

Several states, including California and New York, require state employees to be vaccinated. Additionally, several cities, like New York City and San Francisco, require proof of vaccination for inside dining, gyms and other indoor activities. There's a mandate that applies to all city workers in New York City and comes with a $500 bonus for getting vaccinated.

Los Angeles County requires proof of vaccination to enter indoor bars, nightclubs, breweries and wineries. Los Angeles also approved its strictest COVID-19 vaccination mandate, which requires people age 12 and older to be fully vaccinated before entering public indoor places. Also in California, a judge ordered vaccine mandates for prison guards and staff. 

California Gov. Gavin Newsom says all students, elementary through high school, will be required to get the shot. Nine states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have vaccination requirements for staff in K-12 schools.

More than 400 colleges and universities are also requiring vaccines for students who plan to attend in-person classes.

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A Pfizer injection at a mass vaccination site in March at the Circuit of the Americas racetrack in Austin, Texas.

Natalie Weinstein/CNET

Additional vaccines that are mandated in the US

A federal vaccine mandate is not new. In 1977, for example, the federal government began an initiative to vaccinate up to 90% of the nation's children against seven diseases:

  • Diphtheria
  • Measles
  • Mumps
  • Pertussis
  • Poliomyelitis
  • Rubella
  • Tetanus

All 50 states require specific vaccines for students, with exemptions varying from state to state. Most school requirements follow the CDC's vaccine schedule for children.

States banning COVID-19 vaccination requirements

At least 20 states with Republican governors, including Arkansas, Florida and Texas, prohibit proof-of-vaccination requirements. That means businesses, schools and local government institutions can't enforce a vaccine mandate. (The same goes for requiring face masks.) The prohibitions went into effect through either legislation or executive orders.

Kentucky AG Daniel Cameron's request to temporarily block the vaccine mandate for federal contractors was granted by a federal judge.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order banning all state entities, including private employers, from enforcing vaccine mandates.

Some governors are trying to prevent private employers, as well as the state, from requiring vaccines, according to the National Academy for State Health Policy. Some are also trying to prevent the use of vaccine passports, which show proof that you've been vaccinated against COVID-19.

For more information, here's what to know about breakthrough infections among the fully vaccinated. 

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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.