President Joe Biden urged American companies on Monday to begin ordering staff to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as he celebrated the FDA’s final approval of the Pfizer vaccine.
After delivering the much needed good news he exited the White House auditorium sharply, without stopping to answer questions about the crisis in Afghanistan.
It was a welcome moment for an administration battered by weeks of negative headlines, from spiking cases of COVID-19 to the collapse of the Afghan government and plunging poll numbers.
Major companies like Amtrak, Walt Disney and Walmart have already required their workers to be immunized and the Pentagon have said they will mandate all troops.
But Biden’s calls for all companies to make their requirements stricter is likely to face calls of federal government overreach and legal challenges.
States including Florida and Texas have already fought back against vaccine mandates and believe it is a personal choice to get the shot.
Biden, speaking at the White House, portrayed it as a huge victory even though it will be of limited practical value months after the vaccination received emergency approval.
Even so, he spoke directly to what he said were ‘millions’ of Americans who may have been waiting for full approval before trusting the jab – even though the shots have been going in arms since December 2020.
‘It has now happened,’ Biden said. ‘The moment you’ve been waiting for is here. It’s time for you go get your vaccine.
‘Get it today.’
Joe Biden urged Americans to get vaccinated amid FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine
After delivering his good news on vaccinations, Biden headed straight for the exit ignoring questions about Afghanistan
The FDA announcement was a welcome bit of good news for an administration that has been battered by weeks of negative headlines and remains under intense pressure as the clock runs down on the president’s August 31 deadline for withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan
He pointed to a pickup in the pace of vaccinations amid a spike in hospitalizations and deaths among the unvaccinated.
‘The FDA approval is the gold standard,’ Biden said, amid information showing about a third of eligible Americans have declined to get the vaccine.
Dorit Reiss, a professor of law at UC Hastings College of the Law, told CNBC that firms may have felt wary of implementing full vaccine mandates until the shot got approval, even though they had the legal authority.
But he also avoided the issue that is provoking still unanswered questions, declining to respond to reporters who shouted questions about the crowded scenes at Kabul airport.
Among the questions he didn’t take: How many Americans are still stuck in the country, as the U.S. military provides security in a tense situation, with Afghan forces manning security checkpoints.
With Biden walking away from shouted questions on Afghanistan, he left it to his national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, and his press secretary to field questions later in the day.
Sullivan deflected questions about whether U.S. troops would stay beyond an August 31 deadline after the Taliban said they were not willing to consider an extension.
‘We are in talks with the Taliban on a daily basis through both political and security channels, I’m not going to get into the details of those discussions here to protect those discussions, which are covering a wide range of issues,’ he said in the White House briefing room.
That left the president to talk up progress on COVID-19.
Biden touted the 71 per cent vaccination rate, and even noted an uptick in shots in hard hit Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas.
He also sought a silver lining in the reduced death rate amid the campaign to push out vaccines, saying the death rate is ‘still 70 percent lower than it was last winter.’
And he used the moment to urge private companies to issue vaccination mandates for staff.
‘As I mentioned before, I’ve imposed vaccination requirements that will reach millions of Americans,’ he said.
‘Today I’m calling on more companies … in the private sector to step up with vaccine requirements that will reach millions more people.
‘If you’re a business leader, a nonprofit leader, state or local leader, who has been waiting for FDA approval to require vaccinations, I call on you now to do that, require it.’
The administration already requires federal employees and onsite contractors to attest that they are vaccinated or if they are unvaccinated to submit to regular testing.
He spoke soon after the Pentagon announced it would press ahead with moves to order personnel to be vaccinated following full approval of the Pfizer shot.
‘We’re going to move forward making that vaccine mandatory, we’re preparing the guidance for the force right now,’ he said during a news briefing.
Earlier, the FDA granted full approval to Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine for those aged 16 and older on Monday. The two-dose regimen was the first to receive emergency use authorization from federal regulators in December 2020 and will now be first to be licensed.
Pfizer said on Monday the vaccine will continue to be available for 12-to-15-year-olds and as third doses for immunocompromised people under emergency use only.