WASHINGTON (AP) – The Biden administration’s vaccination mandate for millions of federal employees appears to be working, with no apparent disruption to law enforcement, intelligence gathering or vacation travel.
On Tuesday, a day after the compliance deadline, 92% of the 3.5 million federal workers covered by Biden’s tenure told the government they were at least partially vaccinated, according to White House officials.
The highest number of partial immunizations on Tuesday was at the Agency for International Development, which had 97.8%, followed closely by the Department of Health and Human Services at 96.4% and the State Department at 96.1%, according to data provided by the White House on Wednesday.
Law enforcement agencies are lagging behind on vaccines, with the Justice Department at 89.8%. The Department of Veterans Affairs is at 87.8% of partial vaccinations, although the Department of Defense is at 93.4% and the Department of Homeland Security at 88.9%. The government office with the fewest number of partially vaccinated employees was the Ministry of Agriculture, at 86.1%.
But overall, 96.5% of federal employees were found to be in compliance with the policy, which also includes medical or religious exemptions that are still being assessed. The rest are considered non-compliant, but officials stressed that “this is not a sinkhole” and workers will be given advice on getting vaccinated or applying for an exemption. Only then would termination be considered.
“We know the vaccine requirements are working,” said Kevin Munoz, deputy White House press secretary. “We hope our implementation sends a clear message to businesses to take similar action that will protect their workforce, customers and our communities.”
White House officials said the data was only a snapshot and the numbers would continue to rise in the days and weeks to come. As they work with additional vaccines and exceptions, there will be no disruption to government services, officials said.
Since the initial vaccine or test mandate was instituted this summer, and then the more restrictive requirement without a testing option this fall, the White House has felt the federal government could serve as a model for the rest of the country’s employers to find out. how vaccinations might help promote a faster return to normalcy.
White House officials say the most important lesson for companies from the federal experience is that once they take the first step towards the requirements, their workers will follow.
Figures from the Internal Revenue Service show how a warrant can increase immunization rates. About 25% of the agency’s workforce first had a chance after Biden announced the tenure in September; now 98% are in compliance.
Agencies with slightly lower vaccination rates tend to have very dispersed staffs, making it more difficult to educate and advise on the benefits of vaccines – or even just the task of getting workers to declare that they are have already received an injection – more difficult.
There is still some resistance. The union representing federal prison workers has filed a complaint to block the warrant, arguing that it is an unfair labor practice and violates employees’ free speech and privacy rights. Shane Fausey, chairman of the Council of Prison Locals, said in a letter to members on Wednesday that more than 3,500 Federal Bureau of Prisons employees – about 10% of the agency’s workforce – were receiving letters of advice and facing dismissal for non-compliance with the mandate.
Fausey’s letter repeated misinformation about the vaccine, including claiming that it is not stopping the spread of COVID-19 and that it does not reduce the “overall adverse medical effects of the virus”. Lawyers Bruce Castor and Michael van der Veen, who represented former President Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial, represent the union.
By the end of October, several intelligence agencies apparently had at least 20% of their workforce unvaccinated, said Republican Representative Chris Stewart of Utah, a member of the House Intelligence Committee.
Some of the initial fears about the immunization status of the federal workforce came from employees not having access to government computers to do their vaccination certificates. Some, like the frontline officers of the Transportation Security Administration, rarely use a government computer. Others are in the field or have simply delayed responding to the survey or starting vaccination.
The federal immunization rate exceeds the immunization rate for all Americans. About 82.2% of American adults, or more than 212 million people, have received at least one dose. Of these, around 71%, or more than 183 million, are fully immunized.
___ Associated Press editor Michael R. Sisak contributed to this report.
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