Will A Federal Mandate Make The Difference For Unvaccinated Americans? : Consider This from NPR Last week President Biden announced a six-pronged strategy to combat the newly surging pandemic — including a federal rule that all businesses with 100 or more employees must ensure their workers are vaccinated for COVID-19, or submit to weekly testing for the virus.

Will A Federal Mandate Make The Difference For Unvaccinated Americans?

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Last week, President Biden addressed a particular part of the population.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: My message to unvaccinated Americans is this. What more is there to wait for? What more do you need to see?

KELLY: He said his patience was wearing thin.

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BIDEN: We've made vaccinations free, safe and convenient. The vaccine has FDA approval. Over 200 million Americans have gotten at least one shot.

KELLY: Biden announced that through the Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration - that's OSHA - that the federal government would require employers with more than 100 employees either to ensure their workers get vaccinated or do weekly testing. The new rule would impact about 80 million workers.

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BIDEN: Some of the biggest companies are already requiring this - United Airlines, Disney, Tyson's Food (ph) and even Fox News.

KELLY: As expected, Republicans are calling this an overreach.

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RON DESANTIS: He's saying he's losing patience with people. You know, at the end of the day, we don't live with a one-person rule in this country.

KELLY: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaking last Friday.

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DESANTIS: I mean, just think about, you know, what this mandate would do. It's going to drive people out of work, out of hospitals, out of all this stuff.

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ASA HUTCHINSON: This is a very serious deadly virus, and we're all together in trying to get an increased level of vaccination out in the population.

KELLY: Speaking on NBC's "Meet The Press," Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson said a mandate like this will actually make it harder to convince people in his state to get the vaccine.

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HUTCHINSON: The problem is that I'm trying to overcome resistance, but the president's actions and a mandate hardens the resistance.

KELLY: And yet many health officials are saying it's about time.

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ZEKE EMANUEL: Way back when in - April 14, I began calling for a mandate, especially among health care workers, the Defense Department and others.

KELLY: Former White House COVID 19 adviser Dr. Zeke Emanuel.

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EMANUEL: And I think the president is slowly leading the country to accept the mandates.

KELLY: CONSIDER THIS - it's clear that unvaccinated Americans need more incentive than rising case numbers and death counts. But will a federal mandate convince them? And how will it work? Coming up, we'll hear more from Zeke Emanuel and business leaders about how they see this playing out.

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KELLY: From NPR, I'm Mary Louise Kelly. It's Monday, September 13.

It's CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. In a letter published Monday morning, a trade group that represents large companies including Coca-Cola and Campbell's Soup had some follow-up questions for the White House following the new vaccine mandate.

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GEOFF FREEMAN: What is considered documentation for proof of vaccination? Must an employee be fully vaccinated in order to work? Is there a single testing standard?

KELLY: That's Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the Consumer Brands Association. He told NPR that while he supports measures to increase vaccinations, he's worried about it happening in a haphazard way.

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FREEMAN: We can't have the federal government hand this off to the private sector and say, now it's your responsibility. No. We need a federal government that is getting us immediate answers, that is a partner and working through these complicated situations.

KELLY: Situations like if the federal mandate requires vaccination or weekly COVID testing, who pays for the tests?

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FREEMAN: We don't know what the cost is here. We don't know who's expected to pick up that cost.

KELLY: Even with this laundry list of questions, Freeman says there is one clear positive right away. It means this decision of whether to institute a mandate is taken out of employers' hands, which he says makes for a level playing field.

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FREEMAN: There is upside to the federal government's engagement, but that benefit is lost if there's confusion and anxiety.

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KELLY: Employers have a lot of questions. Republicans are pushing back. But Dr. Zeke Emanuel says a mandate like this was really the only choice Biden had.

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EMANUEL: He tried to persuade people to get it. But we know voluntary efforts like this aren't going to get enough and that mandates are going to be necessary.

KELLY: Emanuel is the vice provost for global initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania and a former member of President Biden's Transition COVID-19 Advisory Board. He spoke with NPR's Michel Martin on Sunday.

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EMANUEL: We know that if we need 80% of the population to do something, it won't happen voluntarily. Even in our most just wars that all the country is mobilized for, you still need a draft. Voluntary things will get you so far. And we've seen about 50% of the population - 54% of the population now, through a voluntary effort, has gotten vaccinated. And we're going up ever so slowly. You're going to need mandates, something more forceful, to persuade all the people we needed to adopt the vaccine to actually get it. And I think that President Biden has slowly led the country to realize that.

MICHEL MARTIN: So the president's mandate potentially covers about 100 million Americans, so about a third of the country's total population. What impact do you think this will have on efforts to bring the pandemic under control?

EMANUEL: First of all, we do know that mandates work. When Houston Methodist Hospital mandated its 26,000 thousand workers, there was a lot of pushback, a lot of noise about that. But in the end, only 127 or -37 of 26,000 employees decided they weren't going to get vaccinated and would prefer to quit. So mandates work. And that, I think, is going to make a big difference.

MARTIN: As we mentioned, the president's executive order also covers private sector employees. Now, as you - you know, some business organizations and trade groups have already been supportive of this mandate. But already, many Republicans are reacting furiously. They have called it a tyranny. And this includes even some people like Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, who is not among those who've downplayed the virus or resisted other measures. He's taken some strong measures, but even he's called this a mistake, saying people and business owners should make their own decisions about vaccination. So what do you say to that?

EMANUEL: Well, you know, our founders understood that if every individual made decisions that would lead to - on something important, nationally important - that would lead to chaos. You couldn't have individual freedom on things that affected everyone. They believe in ordered liberty, and ordered liberty requires certain rules where your action impacts others. That's, in this country, why we have driver's license, why we say you can't go into a store without shoes and a shirt on - so that we actually protect each other.

This notion that freedom allows me to do whatever I want is something our Founding Fathers would totally reject. That is not their understanding of freedom. Freedom is ordered liberty. And part of ordered liberty is where we impact other people, like infectious diseases, we have to actually all act together. And they would think this is perfectly consistent with freedom. And I think the president and most of the American population agrees with that. There's going to be a small group that doesn't, and that's the people who we actually need to abide by this mandate.

MARTIN: So before we let you go, as we are speaking now, cumulatively, U.S. COVID deaths are numbering more than 660,000 and with about 1,500 people dying per day at the moment. Although the seven-day cumulative average seems to be going down, is that where you thought we'd be by now?

EMANUEL: No. I had - you know, way back in March 2020, I said, you know, we'll probably get back to normalcy in November 2021. And I was considered a real bad pessimist then. And what I didn't anticipate was delta. I think it was hard for anyone to anticipate how infectious and deadly something like delta could be. And second, I didn't anticipate how resistant a portion of the public would be to vaccination. And now it looks like, you know, we're talking about spring 2022. And that assumes that we have more mandates.

I also might say, Michel, one of the things I'm very nervous about at the moment is looking forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas. We remember from 2020, we had a big surge around Thanksgiving, and that declined only a little bit, and then a big surge around Christmas because of travel. I am very nervous that with people wanting to travel more, wanting to see family, if we don't get that vaccination rate up very rapidly in the very short period of time, we could have another double surge. That would be, I think, quite, quite problematic for the country with a very high death rate.

And the only way to prevent that, I think, is mandating vaccination before any air travel, interstate trains, interstate buses. You know, frankly, you need six weeks before Thanksgiving to make that effective because you need two shots, and you need two weeks after the second shot to really be fully vaccinated. So we got to start now.

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KELLY: Dr. Zeke Emanuel, former COVID-19 adviser for the Biden administration. You're listening to CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. I'm Mary Louise Kelly.

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