Jeff Zients says federal vaccine rule will be complied with


The White House said it plans to finalize COVID-19 vaccine regulations for large companies “soon” and said the mandate will not worsen the supply-chain crunch because workers will comply.

COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said the Labor Department submitted the text of the rule, which requires companies with 100 or more workers to mandate that workers be vaccinated or face weekly testing, to the administration’s Office of Management and Budget.

He couldn’t give a timeline for when the regulation will kick in as business groups demand clarity on the parameters of the mandate and how it should be enforced. President Biden outlined the rule as part of a broader vaccine mandate on federal workers and contractors on Sept. 9.

“The rule will be finalized soon, but we know businesses are already acting,” Mr. Zients said during a COVID-19 briefing.

Some industries are warning that some workers will walk off the job instead of getting the shots, worsening labor shortages and economic shocks from the pandemic.

Mr. Zients downplayed those fears, pointing to high vaccination rates at companies that acted on their own and the breathing room written into Mr. Biden’s rules.

He pointed to Tyson Foods, which achieved a 96% vaccination rate ahead of its deadline next week, while certain hospitals and airlines have gotten above 90%.

Separately, Mr. Zients said there are “still weeks” until federal workers hit a deadline of Nov. 22 to get vaccinated and federal contractors face a deadline of Dec. 8.

He said once those deadlines hit, holdout employees will have a chance to get educated on vaccines and receive counseling or accommodations before they face termination.

“These processes play out across weeks, not days,” Mr. Zients said. “We’re creating flexibility within the system. We’re offering people multiple opportunities to get vaccinated, there is not a cliff here. And the purpose, most importantly, is to get people vaccinated and protected, not to punish them, so we do not expect any disruptions.”

Roughly 57% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated but the administration is pushing to lift vaccination rates. The administration fears another setback in the pandemic fight even though things are trending in the right direction at the moment.

Reported infections are down roughly 60% — from 175,000 per day in mid-September to 71,000, and hospitalizations are down 54% from the fall peak.

Montana, Wyoming and West Virginia are the only states with more than 40 persons per 100,000 hospitalized with the disease as the U.S. braces to see if vaccination levels are sufficient to stiff-arm the virus in the colder months. Each of those states has a vaccination rate that is lower than the national average.

GOP lawmakers and governors oppose Mr. Biden’s vaccine mandates and want him to reverse the moves. They’re concerned about a drain of workers and a lack of military readiness if the Department of Defense relies on mass dismissal to enforce its mandate.

Some employers say they’ve been able to lift vaccination rates without federal intervention.

Delta Airlines CEO Ed Bastian, who unlike rivals resisted a mandate on existing employees, recently said his company managed to get 90% of its employers vaccinated.

“By the time we’re done we’ll be pretty close to fully vaccinated as a company without going through all the divisiveness of a mandate,” Mr. Bastian told Fox Business this month.

“We’re proving that you can work collaboratively with your people, trusting your people to make the right decisions, respecting their decisions and not forcing them over the loss of their jobs,” he said.

The University of Tulsa said it has gotten nearly 91% of its faculty vaccinated, plus nearly 80% of the student body and 83% of staff.

On Wednesday, it said its status as a federal contractor — it is a research university — means holdouts will need to get vaccinated or seek a medical or religious exemption before the Dec. 8 deadline.

“After concerted efforts to incentivize and educate our employees about the personal and community benefits of receiving a vaccine, the vast majority of TU employees already are immunized against COVID-19,” the university said. “While these voluntary efforts have proven effective, as demonstrated by our high vaccination rate and our low number of cases, we have no option but to comply with the mandate.”

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