Biden: I wished vaccine mandates had 'not become necessary'

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President Biden defended his decision to issue sweeping COVID-19 vaccine mandates Thursday by saying he did not want to resort to heavy-handed rules, but too many people remained on the sidelines, threatening both public health and the economy.

“Vaccination is the single best pathway out of this pandemic,” the president said. “And while I would have much preferred that requirements not become necessary, too many people remain unvaccinated for us to get out of this pandemic for good. So I instituted requirements — and they are working.”

Only 58% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, although nearly eight in 10 eligible Americans have received at least one shot.

Mr. Biden is worried those rates aren’t sufficient to push the virus into the background. He is trying to fend off another winter spike in the virus and put his recovery agenda on a stronger footing as the U.S. surpasses 750,000 deaths from the disease.

Rules issued Thursday require employers with 100 or more workers to mandate the vaccine or weekly virus testing, and impose vaccine rules on 17 million health workers at places that receive Medicaid and Medicare funding. Mr. Biden also issued mandates on federal workers and contractors.

“Together, these rules will cover about 100 million Americans — two-thirds of all workers in America,” Mr. Biden said.

The president is defending mandates because companies that imposed them saw their vaccination rates increase to 90% or more.

“There have been no ‘mass firings’ and worker shortages because of vaccination requirements. Despite what some predicted and falsely assert, vaccination requirements have broad public support,” Mr. Biden said. “And vaccination requirements are nothing new. We’ve been living with them throughout our lives for all sorts of diseases.”

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