WASHINGTON – President Biden wants states to give $100 to people who get vaccinated against Covid-19. He wants to require federal workers to get immunized. He wants the same for members of the military, too.
It remains entirely unclear, however, whether he has the power to achieve those goals.
Biden is set to lay out five new pillars of the government vaccination effort meant to encourage more people to get vaccinated as soon as possible in a Thursday afternoon speech that underscores the urgency of the latest phase of the coronavirus crisis.
Only one of the pillars, however, seems immediately achievable: Moving forward, the federal government will reimburse employers who give workers time off to get themselves or their family members vaccinated.
Arguably the most sweeping element of Biden’s announcement includes a new requirement for all federal employees or contractors to “attest” to their vaccination status. Those who haven’t been vaccinated, however, can continue in their jobs as long as they wear masks and submit to weekly Covid-19 testing.
The idea to have states give cash rewards to new vaccine recipients follows several jurisdictions that have provided incentives like cash or lottery tickets. He offered no new federal resources to support such programs, but said states could use money from the recently passed American Rescue Package, a pandemic relief bill.
Biden also called on school districts across the country to host pop-up vaccination clinics and said he would direct pharmacies in the federal pharmacy program to prioritize those efforts.
Lastly, Biden instructed the Pentagon to “look into how and when” it could add Covid-19 immunizations to its list of required vaccines for servicemembers, but gave the agency no deadline. The Department of Veterans Affairs announced that over 100,000 of its frontline health care workers would be required to be vaccinated, the first such mandate for a federal agency.
While a number of universities and businesses have imposed vaccination mandates on their students or employees, legal experts have questioned whether the federal government itself has the authority to do so. One potential snag is the vaccines’ approval status: While the Food and Drug Administration issued emergency authorizations for Pfizer and Moderna’s shots in December, technically, neither has received formal approval.
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