President Biden announced sweeping changes to policies regarding the country’s fight against COVID-19. The delta variant is spreading fast, leading to tens of thousands of new infections every single day.
Around 54% of the population is fully vaccinated, but that’s not enough to bring the pandemic to its knees. The president wants to get more shots in arms as the country heads into winter by introducing new requirements for private businesses and hospitals.
What This Means for Healthcare Workers
If you work in healthcare, here’s what you need to know: The Biden Administration says hospitals that receive funding from the Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services must mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for all staff or risk losing funding. That includes just about every hospital in the country. This also includes dialysis facilities, ambulatory surgical centers, and other facilities that depend on these funds.
The agency says it plans to announce the interim final rule in October. CMS funding makes up a large portion of most hospitals’ revenue, so every facility will likely have to comply with the rule. Facilities in areas with high rates of CMS participation will likely be more affected by these changes than those in areas with low CMS participation.
The announcement is an extension of a rule proposed nearly a month ago requiring nursing homes to mandate the vaccine for all staff or risk losing CMS funding. The same rule now applies to virtually all healthcare workers.
CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure defended the agency’s decision. “Data show that the higher the level of vaccination rates among providers and staff, the lower the infection rate is among patients who are dependent upon them for care. Now is the time to act,” she said in a statement.
The agency said healthcare providers who are not vaccinated that work at facilities that receive CMS funding should start the vaccination process as soon as possible.
“Facilities are urged to use all available resources to support employee vaccinations, including employee education and clinics, as they work to meet new federal requirements,” the agency added.
Over 100 U.S. hospitals have already announced plans to mandate the shot for all staff. We will likely see more announcements in the weeks to come.
There hasn’t been a lot of pushback from hospital administrators thus far. Experts say many companies will likely welcome the decision, especially those that have been considering issuing a mandate but held off for a variety of reasons. The announcement gives employers cover. If their staff is angry about having to get vaccinated, administrators can blame it on the federal government.
What About Private Employees?
The Biden administration announced new rules for private employers outside the realm of healthcare.
Any company with more than 100 employees will have to mandate the shot for all staff or require weekly COVID-19 testing. This will be enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Companies that fail to comply with the new rule could face up to $14,000 in fines. The rule also says companies must provide paid time off for their staff to get vaccinated.
The ruling is expected to affect some 80 million Americans.
However, it’s not clear whether OSHA has the resources to enforce these laws.
Speaking at the White House, Biden adopted a new tone when talking about the unvaccinated. “We’ve been patient. But our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us,” he said. The unvaccinated minority “can cause a lot of damage, and they are.”
Biden also announced that he is doubling fines for those caught not wearing a mask on airplanes, even though studies show these fines are rarely enforced.
All federal contractors will also have to show proof of vaccination or face disciplinary action, including termination.
There’s bound to be some resistance to these new policies. Republican leaders across the country have already started criticizing the government’s decision as a vast overreach. But many people have been waiting for the president to utilize the full force of the federal government to help bring the pandemic to an end.
A poll in August found that 55% of Americans are in favor of requiring government workers to be fully vaccinated, compared with 21% opposed. Similar majorities also backed vaccine mandates for healthcare workers, teachers working at K-12 schools and workers who interact with the public, as at restaurants and stores.
Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, vice dean at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, said these new rules should increase vaccination rates, but there’s still more work to be done.
“There is an aspect to this now that has to do with our country being so divided,” said Sharfstein. “This has become so politicized that people can’t see the value of a vaccination that can save their lives. Our own divisions are preventing us from ending a pandemic.”
If you’ve been holding off on getting your shot, your time may be about to run out.