President Joe Biden has announced sweeping new vaccine requirements affecting as many as 100 million Americans.
The move aims to increase Covid-19 vaccinations and curb the surging Delta variant that is killing thousands each week and jeopardising the US’s economic recovery.
Speaking at the White House, Mr Biden criticised the roughly 80 million Americans who are not yet vaccinated, despite months of availability and incentives.
“We’ve been patient. But our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us,” he said. The unvaccinated minority “can cause a lot of damage, and they are,” he added.
The rules mandate that all employers with more than 100 workers require them to be vaccinated or test for the virus weekly, affecting about 80 million Americans.
And the roughly 17 million workers at health facilities that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid will have to be fully vaccinated.
Mr Biden is also signing an executive order to require vaccination for employees of the executive branch and contractors who do business with the federal government. That covers several million more workers.
Just two months ago Mr Biden prematurely declared the nation’s “independence” from the virus.
Now, despite more than 208 million Americans having at least one dose of the vaccines, the US is seeing about 300% more new Covid-19 infections a day, about two-and-a-half times more hospital admissions, and nearly twice the number of deaths compared to the same time last year.
Mr Biden’s plans were previewed on Thursday afternoon by White House press secretary Jen Psaki and other senior administration officials ahead of a speech.
After months of using promotions to drive the vaccination rate, Mr Biden is taking a much firmer hand, as his aides blame people who have not yet received shots for the sharp rise in cases that is killing more than 1,000 people per day and hitting a fragile economic rebound.
Ms Psaki said Mr Biden’s “overarching objective here is to reduce the number of unvaccinated Americans,” noting about 80 million adults remain unvaccinated.
An AP-NORC poll conducted in August found that 54% of Americans approved of Mr Biden’s stewardship of the public health crisis, down from 66% the month before, driven by a drop in support from Republicans and political independents.
In addition to the vaccination requirements, Mr Biden is moving to double federal fines for airline passengers who refuse to wear masks on flights.
Mr Biden is also announcing that the federal government will work to increase the supply of virus tests, and that the White House has secured concessions from retailers including Walmart, Amazon, and Kroger to sell cheaper at-home testing kits.
The administration is also to send additional federal support to assist schools in safely operating, including additional funding for testing.
And Mr Biden is calling for large entertainment venues and arenas to require vaccinations or proof of a negative test for entry.