Biden to broaden Covid vaccine mandate in major White House speech

One major part will be mandatory vaccinations for all federal employees and federal contractors, a source familiar with the plans, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP.

US President Joe Biden arrives to speak about the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan from the East Room of the White House 16 August 2021, in Washington, DC. Picture: Brendan Smialowski/AFP

WASHINGTON - US President Joe Biden will announce wider vaccine mandates for federal employees as part of a new effort to wrestle COVID-19 back under control in a speech Thursday that comes as his own political fortunes are slipping.

The White House says Biden will lay out a "six-pronged" plan.

One major part will be mandatory vaccinations for all federal employees and federal contractors, a source familiar with the plans, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP. Currently, government workers either need to have a vaccine or submit to regular testing.

"The president has signed an Executive Order to take those actions a step further and require all federal executive branch workers to be vaccinated," the source said.

Biden's press secretary, Jen Psaki, told CNN on Thursday the president will push to ramp up vaccines and testing across the board, although he has limited powers, and there is no plan for anything like a national vaccine passport.

"That means reducing hospitalisations. That means putting in place more testing requirements and putting in place more protections in the form of boosters to make sure people have an even greater level of protection," Psaki said.

The administration's early success in rolling out vaccinations and promoting mask-wearing gave Biden a lift after taking office.

After leading the world in coronavirus deaths under former president Donald Trump, the United States became a model for how to beat the pandemic.

On 4 July, Biden even held a big White House barbecue to celebrate US Independence Day and freedom from lockdowns.

But the emergence of the hard-to-stop Delta variant over the summer has sent cases back to crisis levels, with hospitals in some states once more overflowing with the sick and dying.

Seeing his entire agenda on things like the economy or climate change overshadowed by the pandemic, Biden badly needs to change its course or at least demonstrate he is in charge.

The strategy will involve both the public and private sectors, said a White House official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"As the president has said since day one, his administration will pull every lever to get the pandemic under control," the official said.

But much of the problem is beyond Biden's reach.

The federal government has distributed free vaccine supplies across the country and also became the world's largest donor to poorer nations.

However, state governments, notably in Republican Texas and Florida, have actively resisted imposing mask mandates, while swaths of their populations refuse to get vaccinated - even as cases around them soar.

Biden and his supporters have taken to calling the current virus surge a "pandemic of the unvaccinated."

Despite the role played by Republican leaders, Biden, who is simultaneously taking a hit from the traumatic US exit from Afghanistan, is getting much of the blame.

In the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, 52% approved of Biden's handling of the pandemic, down from 62% of adults in June.

Biden's overall approval average ratings are firmly below 50% for the first time in his presidency.

According to the Washington Post-ABC News survey, only 44% approve of his performance, compared to 50% in June.

Download the Eyewitness News app to your iOS or Android device.