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Biden vaccine mandate halted for now: Update on who must show proof of COVID vaccination

Biden's national vaccine mandate for health care workers was scheduled to start on Dec. 6, but it's been blocked by a federal judge. Here's what it means.


The federal COVID-19 vaccine for health care workers has been blocked. 

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

A federal COVID-19 vaccine requirement for health care workers was scheduled to start on Dec. 6, but a federal judge blocked the mandate on Tuesday. This comes less than two weeks after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration suspended the Biden administration's enforcement of the vaccine mandate for companies with 100 or more employees. The mandate for health care workers would require them to get their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 6 and the second dose by Jan. 4.

On the other hand, several states and cities have already taken vaccine requirements into their own hands, which proves to be working. "Vaccination requirements have helped reduce the number of unvaccinated Americans ages 12 and older by almost 40 percent -- from about 100 million in July to under 60 million now," White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said during a briefing in November.

Earlier 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.

President Joe Biden is aiming to get about 84 million more Americans vaccinated. Roughly 777,000 people in the US have died from COVID-19, and vaccination rates have slowed despite the uptick in delta variant cases, and the appearance of the new omicron variant that's recently surfaced. Meanwhile, more than 98% of people hospitalized with a COVID-19 diagnosis between June and August this year were unvaccinated. 

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. Roughly 80 million Americans who are eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine have not been vaccinated. 

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

  • Employers with 100 or more employees will be required to have their employees either be fully vaccinated or get tested weekly to come to work (at-home tests will be free starting in January). Biden said the Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration would implement the requirements that will affect 84 million workers. For now, OSHA has suspended this mandate after a federal appeals panel claimed the government agency exceeded its authority.
  • 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 January 2022. 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, US Citizenship and Immigration Services announced on Sept. 14. 

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.

Ten states -- Missouri, Nebraska, Arkansas, Kansas, Iowa, Wyoming, Alaska, South Dakota, North Dakota and New Hampshire -- challenged the vaccine mandate for health care workers.

report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Sept. 17 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. 

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 take in-person classes.


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 Attorney General 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. Also, here's what we know about the delta plus variant.

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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.