Biden’s Vaccine Mandate


Eric Haynes

Photo credit: Eric Haynes under Creative Commons license

On Sept. 9 President Joe Biden unveiled to the country new COVID vaccine mandates. He announced that he will direct the Department of Labor and OSHA to require all businesses with more than 100 employees to make vaccination mandatory or risk fines of up to 14,000 dollars per infraction. This is the latest and most aggressive federal mandate to curb the coronavirus pandemic since the start of the outbreak in March of 2020. President Biden has also announced that all federal employees are to be vaccinated or face termination. The new rules are part of a wider trend as companies are beginning to require vaccination or weekly testing for their employees. 

President Biden’s announcement was met with deep opposition. Conservative commentator and Fox News host Sean Hannity called the vaccine mandate “deeply unconstitutional” and said the president is “mentally incompetent.” Other conservative groups are attempting to challenge the legal authority President Biden has to issue such an order. 

The origins of government-mandated vaccines date back to Jacobson v. Massachusetts (1905) where in a 7-2 ruling, the court held that compulsory vaccinations are constitutional. 

However, this rule is different. 

President Biden is using the power of the Executive Branch to force private businesses to vaccinate their employees. This is complicated as the federal government is famously bureaucratic and the emergency declaration President Biden cited under The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 requires many steps. OSHA must prove that it is feasible to enforce, that it puts workers in danger, and it is effective in defusing said danger. Proving those three standards in court could be challenging for the Biden administration as Republicans and other groups are ready to put up a fight. 

There are other challenges to this new mandate inside the federal government as well. The New York Times has reported that OSHA has received less than a week’s notice to the plan to unveil the new rules. Insiders have also speculated that it could take weeks before a final plan is hammered out. 

OSHA is a small agency with a limited budget thus making enforcement difficult. OSHA currently has a budget of around six hundred million dollars and less than two thousand inspectors. OSHA simply does not have the resources to police the actions of every company in America. 

Much of the enforcement will have to be enacted by the companies themselves. Prior to the announcement, high-profile companies such as Cente, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Goldman Sachs have announced vaccine requirements to return to work. Some companies have dragged their feet on announcing vaccine requirements. One such example is Walmart.  

Walmart has more than two million employees, most of which are hourly workers. 

Currently, Walmart has only made vaccination or testing mandatory for employees who work at the central office in Bentonville who tend to be salaried. This speaks to a wider trend of income and vaccine status or hesitancy. 

Individuals who make less money are less likely to have been vaccinated. 

This creates large problems for companies such as Walmart as they begin to implement the new procedures. A recent poll found 30 percent of Americans will outright refuse a vaccine, that if applied to a company like Walmart is hundreds of thousands of people. If they refuse to get vaccinated, then they must be tested for COVID once a week. 

This raises another question, who is going to pay for all of the tests? 

The new rules make it unclear if the federal government is going to be on the hook for these new tests, which could especially be a burden for businesses on the smaller side of the new regulations. 

President Biden’s new mandate is one of the most aggressive countermeasures issued by the federal government since the start of the pandemic. It will test the power of the Executive Branch and perhaps end this pandemic once and for all.