WASHINGTON—US President Joe Biden plans to require all federal employees and government contractors to get vaccinated against COVID-19, a source briefed on the matter told Reuters on Thursday.
Biden will sign an executive order that applies to millions who work for the US government, as US COVID-19 cases surge among the unvaccinated.
He will also lay out new steps schools and workplaces can take to mitigate the spread of the virus in a speech at 5 p.m. ET (2100 GMT) on Thursday.
Despite a full-throttled campaign by the Biden administration urging all eligible Americans to get the free vaccines, just over 53% of Americans are fully vaccinated, according to date from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The disease has killed more than 654,000 people in the United States, and deaths and hospitalizations have been rising sharply as the easily transmissible Delta variant of the virus spreads.
In July, Biden said federal workers had to get vaccinated or face regular COVID-19 testing and other restrictions like mandatory face covering at workplaces.
Biden's speech also will cover increasing testing and mask-wearing, protecting the economic recovery from the pandemic-induced recession, and improving healthcare for people infected with COVID-19, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in television interviews.
"He's going to speak directly to vaccinated people and their frustration, and he wants them to hear how we're going to build on what we've done to date to get the virus under control and to return to some version of normal in this country," she said.
The White House's COVID recovery plans, and the projected US economic rebound were based on the vast majority of eligible Americans being vaccinated this year. But the public health issue has become politicized, with a vocal minority refusing the shots and mask mandates, arguing that they are an infringement on their individual rights.
'WE KNOW IT WORKS'
The spread of the Delta variant has raised concerns as children head back to school, while also rattling investors, upending company return-to-office plans, and tamping down hiring.
With 160,000 new infections a day, the country is "still in pandemic mode ... That's not even modestly good control," Biden's chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told Axios.
"You've got to get well below 10,000 (a day) before you start feeling comfortable," Fauci added.
The White House plans to offer booster shots providing additional protection to those who are fully vaccinated. That goes against arguments from the World Health Organization and other advocates that say with global vaccine supplies limited, rich countries should pause booster programs until more people worldwide are inoculated.
But with Delta causing more symptomatic breakthrough infections among fully inoculated individuals, most vaccinated Americans want a booster, a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll found.
Psaki told MSNBC the White House wants COVID-19 tests to be easier to obtain.
Abbott Laboratories and other test manufacturers are trying to boost production as cases soar, after having scaled back in recent months. CVS Health Corp recently imposed limits on the number of at-home tests customers can buy.
"It's hard to find a test... they should be more available and accessible to people across the country," Psaki said.
The White House said the federal government cannot mandate vaccines nationwide, but it has encouraged school districts, businesses and other entities to require shots.
"We know it works," Psaki said of inoculations, adding that the administration would build on the push for mandates, offering no further details.
Many school districts have mandated masks, despite heated controversy in some areas, and some have required teachers to be vaccinated or face regular testing.
Later on Thursday, the Los Angeles County School Board, the nation's second largest school district behind New York City, is scheduled to weigh a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for those age 12 and older. (Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt and Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey and David Shephardson; Writing by Steve Holland; Editing by Howard Goller, Heather Timmons and Bill Berkrot)