Biden defends use of vaccination requirements to end pandemic: 'We have to beat this thing'

During a Thursday trip to Chicago, President Biden vigorously defended his use of vaccination requirements to try to end the coronavirus pandemic.

“We know there is no other way to beat the pandemic than to get the vast majority of Americans vaccinated,” Biden said in a speech at a data center in the suburb of Elk Grove Village. “We're still not there. We have to beat this thing.”

As the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus swept across the country during the summer, the Biden administration warmed to the idea of requiring vaccination for federal workers, announcing a mandate in July. In lieu of proof of vaccination, federal workers were given the option of submitting to regular COVID-19 tests, but critics accused the president of denying workers their personal freedom to choose whether to be immunized. Biden has not, however, pushed vaccine mandates in some other sectors and has so far refused to require airplane passengers from showing so-called vaccine passports in order to travel.

Joe Biden
President Biden speaking about the necessity of vaccine mandates on Thursday in Elk Grove Village, Ill. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

During his remarks Thursday, he said rushing to mandates wasn’t his team’s “first instinct,” yet he found it necessary in order to safely operate the federal government.

“Folks, vaccination requirements work,” Biden said. “I know that vaccine requirements are a tough medicine — unpopular for some, politics for others.”

Biden’s July mandate affected nearly 2 million employees across the country, and eventually the rule was extended to members of the military and some private-sector workers, such as nursing home staff.

Hospitals, especially in areas with low vaccination rates, continue to see staffing shortages and crowded intensive care units. After Biden announced that some health care workers must get vaccinated or jeopardize the Medicare and Medicaid funding of their workplaces, fears grew that hospitals in places like New York City, where 64 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated, would face staff shortages.

Those fears proved overblown, however. Data showed that in response to the mandate for health care workers, New York saw a marked jump in the number of health care workers who received an inoculation.

Other states across the country are experiencing similar spikes in vaccination rates within the medical community, according to a memo circulated by White House staff Thursday morning.

“Health care worker vaccination requirements have been shown to work time and time again. They boost vaccination rates and result in limited resignations and dismissals. They are an essential tool to help protect U.S. patients and health care personnel,” the memo read.

The memo, reflected heavily in Biden’s remarks, touted increased vaccine rates across the health care, education and corporate sectors and characterized sweeping rules as helping boost the economy.

Biden said Thursday that he met with private-sector leaders, including the heads of Disney and Lockheed Martin, to discuss their mitigation plans and encourage sweeping mandates to set examples across industry.

“This is something I get a kick out of: Fox News requires vaccinations for all employees,” said Biden, chiding the conservative cable network, whose hosts regularly attack him over mandates. “Give me a break. Fox News!”

The White House’s forceful messaging on vaccination requirements comes amid lagging support for Biden’s overall job performance. According to a recent poll from YouGov/Yahoo News, the president's approval rating has fallen to 42 percent due in part to his inability to pass his domestic agenda through Congress and because of continued fallout from his handling of the American troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The White House is hoping that a decline in new COVID-19 cases spurred by vaccine requirements will help spark a rebound of Biden's approval numbers. Still, it’s unclear whether the worst of the pandemic is behind us. Approximately 68 million Americans have yet to receive an inoculation, according to data from the New York Times.

“We’re headed in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go,” Biden said, adding, “We have a plan. We have the tools. We just have to finish the job. Finish the job. So for God’s sake, for your own sake, for the sake of your families, get vaccinated.”


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