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COVID vaccine mandates and rules: Who is required to show proof of vaccination?

The new White House plan mandates vaccinations for roughly 100 million US workers, but it's getting a bit of blowback.

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Federal employees are now required to be fully vaccinated. 

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

With new COVID-19 vaccine mandates affecting roughly two-thirds of the US workforce, or up to 100 million people, President Joe Biden is seeking to put pressure on about 80 million Americans to get vaccinated. Roughly 1 in 500 people in the US have died from COVID-19, and vaccination rates have slowed despite the uptick in delta variant cases. Since Biden announced the plans on Sept. 9, they've received backlash from congressional Republicans, as well as state and local officials. 

The White House policy mandates COVID-19 vaccines for all federal employees and contractors who do business with the federal government, as well as for health care workers at Medicare and Medicaid facilities. Additionally, the plan directs the Labor Department to require all businesses with 100 or more employees to ensure that their workers are either vaccinated or tested weekly. The strategy also calls on state officials to make vaccinations mandatory for teachers and school staff. 

While stopping short of issuing mandates for all private businesses, the White House is also pushing entertainment venues like sports arenas and concert halls to require patrons to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test for entry. It is also upping fines for those who fail to wear masks on airplanes, trains and buses. 

Here's what you need to know about who's 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 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention committee has recommended one for those at high risk. Also, here's the latest on retrieving your vaccination card if you lost it and vaccines for kids.

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Who is affected by the federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate?

Announcing "a new plan to require more Americans to be vaccinated to combat those blocking public health," Biden 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. And as of July, 99% of COVID deaths were among the unvaccinated, who also make up 97% of hospitalizations.

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. Biden said OSHA, the Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration, would implement the requirements that would affect more than 80 million workers. Businesses are awaiting more details in a formal rule to be issued in coming weeks.
  • Federal workers and employees of contractors that do business with the federal government will be required to be vaccinated.
  • 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 effective Oct. 1, US Citizenship and Immigration Services announced on Sept. 14. 

The president also called on entertainment venues to require proof of vaccination or a negative test to enter their facilities.

Has there been opposition? 

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

report from the CDC 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. 

What companies have employee vaccination mandates? 

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 apply to you, check with your employer for more details. 

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

  • Amtrak
  • Google
  • Lyft
  • McDonald's
  • Microsoft
  • NBCUniversal
  • Netflix
  • Salesforce
  • Twitter
  • Tyson Foods
  • Uber
  • United Airlines
  • Walgreens
  • Walmart

Are there vaccine mandates for US military and police? 

In August, the Pentagon said 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 -- up to 17 total vaccines -- depending on where they're deployed.

What about cities, states and universities with 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. Starting in October, Los Angeles County will require proof of vaccination to enter indoor bars, nightclubs, breweries and wineries.

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. 

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Some cities are requiring proof of vaccination to participate in indoor activities. 

Natalie Weinstein/CNET

Are any other vaccines currently mandated in the US?

Yes. 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 specified vaccines for students, with exemptions varying from state to state. Most school requirements follow the CDC's vaccine schedule for children.

Which states are 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. 

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.