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World Insights: Concerns loom over Biden’s vaccine mandate as U.S. COVID-19 deaths top 700,000

U.S. business groups have many unanswered questions over President Joe Biden’s sweeping vaccine mandates to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed over 700,000 Americans.

Biden, who prioritized handling the pandemic after assuming office, announced last month sweeping new federal vaccine requirements for as many as 100 million Americans, including private-sector employees as well as health care workers and federal contractors.

“We’re going to protect vaccinated workers from unvaccinated co-workers,” Biden said after announcing the mandate against the backdrop of a fourth wave of the virus surge, driven largely by the highly contagious Delta variant in the country.

BUSINESS CONCERNS

The U.S. business groups have expressed frustration with the mandate, which stipulates that companies with over 100 employees must require vaccinations of most employees or pay for weekly testing — which could be expensive — for those choosing not to get the jab. Harsh fines could be imposed for infractions.

Lobby groups that represent the nation’s largest corporate giants are not at odds with the order itself, yet they took issue with the administration’s move of shutting them out and not including them in the process.

“The administration has refused to engage in any substantive dialogue about their plan,” said Ed Egee, vice president of government relations and workforce development at the National Retail Federation, as quoted by the U.S. political publication The Hill.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which is responsible for the implementation of the vaccine-or-test requirement, failed to meet any business groups or labor unions that seek to influence the process, or want more information about the new rules, according to The Hill.

Recent weeks also saw the Consumer Brands Association, which represents 1,700 U.S. brands, urge the Biden administration to accelerate federal guidelines and clarify how businesses are expected to implement the new vaccine orders.

In a letter to the White House, the Consumer Brands Association outlined some of the most critical questions which need to be answered immediately, “not in the weeks federal agencies have signaled it may take, or in the months industry has experienced throughout the pandemic,” the group said on its website.

“Federal agencies must … Promptly answer questions and partner with the private sector if we are to realize successful implementation of the administration’s COVID-19 Action Plan and achieve our shared goal of increased vaccination rates,” wrote Geoff Freeman, Consumer Brands president and CEO.

“Government guidance earlier in the pandemic routinely lagged weeks or months behind initial announcements and often conflicted with state and local requirements,” the statement said.

The Coalition for Workplace Safety, which is led by groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Retail Federation, and National Association of Manufacturers, asked OSHA in a letter last week to reconsider the agency’s “decision” to exclude outside groups from the process, Bloomberg Law reported earlier this week.

POTENTIAL TROUBLE FOR BIDEN

The business groups were also concerned about how vaccination status should be verified, how to deal with religious exemptions, whether those working at home will need to be vaccinated, and who will pay for testing.

While those who violate the OSHA requirements may face a maximum fine of 13,653 U.S. dollars, they may even be fined with as much as 70,000 dollars, if Biden’s sweeping 3.5 trillion social spending bill is passed, Bloomberg Law reported.

Republicans have expressed outrage over the mandate, arguing that the decision to get the vaccines should be a personal one.

Politically, experts and media said the White House is keen to show a decrease in case numbers in the lead-up to next year’s midterm elections.

Clay Ramsay, a researcher at the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland, told Xinhua: “What can really hurt Democrats in the midterms is not having enough results on the ground to show for their efforts (to control the spread of COVID).”

John Walsh, a retired attorney in the state of Pennsylvania, told Xinhua that the government should not mandate vaccines.

But at the same time, some pockets of the United States are being hammered by the Delta variant, which impacts those who have not been vaccinated. Many have fallen victim to misinformation on the vaccines that has run rampant on social media.

Mary Rogers, who works in a small company in the DC area, said she would “feel safer” if her company had a vaccine mandate.

But while Biden successfully oversaw a campaign to get around 50 percent of the population fully vaccinated in his first few months in office, that effort has stalled.

As of Sunday evening, the COVID-19 fatalities in the United States topped 701,000 with over 43 million infections. The grim number comes as the president has hit an all-time low in the polls after his botched withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The failure to control the spread of the Delta variant could mean big trouble for Biden and his party, experts say.

The current 7-day average of new COVID-19 cases was 106,395, and 55.9 percent of the U.S. population were fully vaccinated as of Sunday morning, showed the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data.

Some people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will still get sick because no vaccine is 100 percent effective. Experts continue to monitor and evaluate how often this occurs, how severe their illness is, and how likely a vaccinated person is to spread COVID-19 to others, according to the CDC website. Enditem
By Matthew Rusling (Xinhua)

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