Biden pushes back on opposition to vaccine mandates

President Joe Biden made the case in a national address Thursday that vaccine mandates are essential for economic recovery and ending the pandemic, pushing back on concerns amid a culture war controversy.

“I’ve tried everything in my power to get people vaccinated,” Biden said, naming lotteries, time off from work and providing the vaccine for free as incentives. “But even after all these efforts, we still had over a quarter of Americans eligible for vaccinations who didn’t get the shot. And we know there is no other way to end the pandemic than to get the vast majority of Americans vaccinated.

“So while I didn’t race to do it right away, that’s why I’ve had to move toward requirements. . . . That wasn’t my first instinct,” Biden added, an acknowledgement of prior statements that he wouldn’t impose requirements.

The president appeared near Chicago, where he applauded United Airlines and Clayco, a Midwestern construction company, for implementing vaccine mandates for workers ahead of an expected Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulation requiring vaccines or routine testing at businesses with 100 workers or more.

Before the speech, Biden met workers at one of Clayco’s construction sites.

“700,000 people dead in the United States,” Biden noted, according to the pool report.

The vaccines have saved roughly 100,000 lives, say White House officials. But the unmoved population of unvaccinated Americans has taken a toll. Roughly 192,000 people have died in the seven months since all three COVID-19 vaccines became available to the general public in the U.S.

Biden said mandates could help relieve some of the pressure that unvaccinated people sick with COVID-19 are putting on the health care system.

“Doctors and nurses, I mean it, they’re running dry,” Biden said.

Experts agree that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, citing safety data collected from 187 million fully vaccinated Americans.

Given the drumbeat of thousands of deaths per day, and the demonstrated safety of the vaccines, many health experts emphasize that vaccine mandates are the right course of action.

“There’s a societal good, a societal priority, that has to take precedence here to try to stop this transmission,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

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