By Victor Reklaitis
President Joe Biden announced Wednesday that workers at nursing homes will be required to get vaccinated against COVID-19 if the facilities want to keep receiving Medicare and Medicaid money, as he also talked up his administration’s new plan to provide booster shots of vaccines.
“I’m using the power of the federal government, as a payer of health-care costs, to ensure we reduce those risks to our most vulnerable seniors,” Biden said in a speech at the White House, as he noted that vaccination rates among nursing home staff significantly trail the rest of the country.
Last month, Biden said f ederal government workers must be vaccinated against COVID — or wear masks and be regularly tested. He also put the Pentagon on track to require COVID jabs for American troops.
In his speech on Wednesday, the president praised private-sector employers such as AT&T Inc. /zigman2/quotes/203165245/composite T -1.05% and McDonald’s Corp. /zigman2/quotes/203508018/composite MCD -1.23% for introducing vaccination requirements.
“Employers have more power today to end this pandemic than they have ever had before. Our message is simple: Do the right thing for your employees, consumers and your businesses,” he said.
Regarding boosters, Biden said the additional shots will be free and not require much paperwork.
“Eight months after your second shot, get a booster shot,” he said. “It will be easy. Just show your vaccination card and you’ll get a booster — no other ID, no insurance, no state residency requirement.”
Earlier Wednesday, the administration’s top health officials said a third dose of the COVID shots developed by Moderna Inc. and Pfizer Inc./BioNTech SE will start to become available on Sept. 20 for U.S. residents who have been fully vaccinated for at least eight months.
In explaining the need for booster shots, the officials cited waning protection from initial shots and the delta variant’s spread. They also said Americans who got Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot vaccine probably will need boosters, but they are still waiting on data and then will set out a plan.
A week ago, U.S. health officials authorized boosters for just a small part of the population — some people with compromised immune systems.
Biden acknowledged that some other world leaders have said Americans shouldn’t get a third shot until people in other countries get their first shot.
“I disagree. We can take care of America and help the world the same time,” he said.
The Biden administration’s approach to boosters appears to fit somewhat with the World Health Organization’s stance. The WHO on Wednesday had reiterated its call for waiting until late September to provide boosters in higher-income countries in order to help shift supply to nations that haven’t been able to vaccinate health-care workers and at-risk people.
Biden on Wednesday continued to push back against Republican governors who oppose mask mandates in schools, and he promised to talk more next week about keeping schools open as the COVID pandemic continues.
“If a governor wants to cut the pay of a hardworking education leader who requires masks in a classroom, the money from the American Rescue Plan can be used to pay that person’s salary — 100%,” the president said, referring to March’s $1.9 trillion relief law .
Biden’s speech on COVID issues comes as he gets blasted this week by Republicans and some Democrats over his administration’s handling of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. The president on Monday defended the decision to leave in a brief speech , but critics said he didn’t directly address what they have described as his administration’s disastrous implementation of the American exit.
A lobbying group for nursing homes criticized Biden’s decision on their facilities.
“Focusing only on nursing homes will cause vaccine hesitant workers to flee to other health care providers and leave many centers without adequate staff to care for residents,” said the president and CEO of the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living, Mark Parkinson, in a statement.
“It will make an already difficult workforce shortage even worse. The net effect of this action will be the opposite of its intent and will affect the ability to provide quality care to our residents.”
Vaccine makers’ stocks closed lower on Wednesday, with Moderna /zigman2/quotes/205619834/composite MRNA -3.84% down 0.8%, J&J /zigman2/quotes/201724570/composite JNJ +0.20% off 1.3%, BioNTech /zigman2/quotes/214419716/composite BNTX -2.80% losing 0.6%, and Pfizer /zigman2/quotes/202877789/composite PFE +0.70% shedding 2.2%.
The main U.S. stock gauges /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX -0.11% /zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime DJIA +0.21% finished in the red as investors digested minutes from the Federal Reserve’s last meeting .
This report was first published on Aug. 18, 2021.