Biden says vaccine mandates ‘should not be an issue that divides us’


President Joe Biden on Thursday called on all Americans to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, stating that vaccine mandates work and should not be “another issue that divides us.”

“We're headed in the right direction. We have critical work to do and we can't let up now,” the president said, speaking at his White House look-alike set in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. “I'm calling on more businesses to step up. I'm calling on more parents to get their children vaccinated when they are eligible.”

Biden attempted to reassure Americans that progress is being made in this pandemic, calling attention to falling daily case rates, hospitalizations, and deaths over the past six weeks. The president said over that time frame daily positive cases are down 47% and hospitalizations are down 38%. But unlike early summer, when Biden wrongly predicted Americans would celebrate “independence from the virus” on the Fourth of July, the president took pains to emphasize that the pandemic will not end until more Americans get vaccinated.

While an estimated 70% of adult Americans are now fully vaccinated, according to the New York Times tracker, Biden said the about 66 million individuals who remain unvaccinated is an “unacceptably high number.”

“Now is not the time to let up,” said Biden, arguing that vaccine mandates implemented by private businesses have proven effective at convincing hesitant Americans to get their shots.

The president said the Department of Labor has nearly finished submitting the text of a new rule that will require employers with more than 100 employees to ensure their workers are vaccinated or submitted to regular COVID-19 testing.

Biden said that businesses and other organizations that have implemented vaccine requirements have seen the vaccination rate of their employees rise by an average of 20% or more to well over 90%. He did not mention that several businesses have each fired hundreds of employees who refused to comply with their company's vaccine mandates, or that some industries like the health care sector are experiencing staffing shortages as a consequence.

Though vaccine mandates remain controversial, the president said they should not be and blamed skepticism of COVID-19 vaccines on “misinformation.”

“Let's be clear: Vaccination requirements should not be another issue that divides us. That's why we continue to battle the misinformation that's out there and companies and communities are stepping up as well to combat this misinformation,” Biden said.

LIVE: President Biden provides updates on Covid-19 response and vaccination program — 10/14/21

As an example of misinformation, he cited rumors that a “mass sick-out” of Southwest Airlines pilots opposed to the vaccine mandate caused thousands of flights to be canceled last weekend. But the airline, its pilots union, and the Federal Aviation Authority each denied that the cancellations had anything to do with a mass protest.

Casey Murray, the president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, told the New York Times the issue was caused by “technological issues and problems with how pilots are reassigned and rerouted during disruptions, a process complicated by Southwest's uniquely large, point-to-point network.” He said there was a “domino effect” of one disrupted flight having a chain reaction that shut down thousands of other flights.

Biden praised Southwest Airlines for debunking the rumor.

“All of these efforts are going to help us continue moving the dial to eliminate this disease,” he said.

But again Biden left an important detail out — the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association opposes vaccine mandates and has filed a lawsuit to prevent Southwest from requiring pilots to get vaccinated. The CEO of the company, Gary Kelly, has also spoken out publicly against the president's requirement that federal contractors, like airlines, force their employees to get vaccinated.

The mandates have created a political divide. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) issued an executive order earlier this week that prohibits entities in Texas from requiring that individuals get COVID-19 shots if they object “for any reason of personal conscience.” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) also said this week he is considering a law to protect workers from being fired if they do not comply with vaccine requirements as a matter of personal conscience.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday accused these governors of “putting politics ahead of public health.”

Biden nevertheless charged forward on pushing for vaccine mandates and also said that a decision would be forthcoming from the FDA and CDC on whether Americans will need a third booster shot to be fully protected against COVID-19.

The president emphasized such a decision would be “strictly made based on the science.” That statement follows a report that outside health experts advised the administration to hold off recommending booster shots for all Americans. The disagreement between scientific experts and Biden's political appointees on how to move forward on COVID contrasted with the president's repeated pledges to always follow the science.

Lastly, Biden said that his administration is prepared to administer COVID-19 vaccines to children younger than 12 as soon as the federal government's health agencies give the go-ahead.

“Now I know parents out there are anxiously waiting for a vaccine for children ages 5 to 11. The good news is the FDA and outside experts from the CDC are set to make its determination as to whether the vaccine will be authorized for that age range in the next few weeks,” Biden said.

“If authorized, we are ready. We have purchased enough vaccines for all children between the ages of 5 and 11 in the United States,” he added.

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