Fedweek

Updated: Federal employees and their organizations remain on the watch for more vaccine mandates in light of recent developments including full FDA approval of one of the vaccines, that made by Pfizer.

The Defense Department on Tuesday mandated vaccination for active duty military personnel, as it earlier said it intended to do no later than mid-September even if final approval wasn’t granted by then. The directive says that inoculation with that vaccine is to start “immediately” for the roughly one-third of uniformed personnel who are not yet vaccinated; it allows limited exceptions for medical or religious reasons but does not allow an exception based on having already been infected with the Coronavirus.

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The memo does not directly address civilian personnel—except to the extent that it does cover anyone in the Ready Reserve, including the National Guard—who in many cases work side by side with uniformed personnel. Especially being watched is the military health care setting, since both the VA and the HHS now have mandated vaccination for their employees in similar positions.

Numerous private sector companies—not just in health care fields—have begun to mandate vaccination for their employees in light of the full approval, since some were reluctant to take such action for a vaccine approved only on an emergency basis.

President Biden on Monday cited the policies now in effect for federal workers in urging companies to follow suit, and a White House spokeswoman said this in response to asking about “any additional vaccine mandates from the administration”:

“I expect there will be more, sure, as we’ve said all along. And I would note that my colleagues at the Department of Defense conveyed that they would move, in the coming days, to mandate the vaccine now that the approval has come from the FDA for Pfizer. So we certainly expect there will be more mandates for factions of federal employees.”

In response to a question asking whether Biden will “expand that federal employee vaccine requirement and actually mandate it so there’s no more option of opting out and doing the testing,” she said: “I think you’re looking more at agency to agency or different factions of the government at this point, but expect there will be more on that front.”

Final versus emergency approval of a vaccine—the process is under way for the two others—is not as much of a consideration inside the government. The Justice Department said months ago in a legal opinion that the government was free to impose a mandate on its own employees even for a vaccine not fully approved—as the VA and HHS ultimately chose to do, now affecting some 400,000 employees in all.

Both the VA, with more than 400,000 employees, and the DoD, with more than 750,000, report that about 300,000 of their employees are fully vaccinated, having either received inoculations directly from those departments or having `reported being vaccinated elsewhere.

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The number at VA has increased only by several thousand since the mandate was first announced there—initially affecting only Title 38 medical personnel and later broadened to encompass nearly all of the Veterans Health Administration—but that would not account for those who have gotten vaccinated since then but have not met the requirement to be at least two weeks past the single dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine or the second of the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

Other agencies do not publicly report counts but more may begin to once the relatively new requirement is applied more broadly for employees to either attest that they are fully vaccinated or be subject to covid testing at least weekly plus other restrictions if they work onsite.

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2021 Federal Employees Handbook