“We know vaccine requirements work,” said White House assistant press secretary Kevin Munoz. “We hope that our implementation sends the clear message to businesses to move forward with similar measures that will protect their workforce, protect their customers, and protect our communities.”
White House officials said the data was just a snapshot and the numbers would continue to rise in the days and weeks ahead. As they work through additional vaccines and exceptions, there will be no disruptions to government services, the officials said.
Since instituting the initial vaccine-or-test mandate this summer and then the more-restrictive requirement without a test-out option this fall, the White House has believed the federal government could serve as a model for the rest of the nation's employers for how vaccinations could help shepherd a quicker return to the normal.
White House officials say the most important lesson for businesses from the federal experience is that once they take the first step toward requirements, their workers will follow.
The numbers from the Internal Revenue Service show how a mandate can drive up the vaccination rate. About 25% of the agency’s workforce first got a shot after Biden announced the mandate in September; now, 98% are in compliance.
Agencies with marginally lower vaccination rates tend to have widely dispersed workforces, making education and counseling about the benefits of vaccines — or even just the task of getting workers to self-report that they’ve already gotten a shot – more difficult.
There is still some resistance. The union representing federal prison workers filed a lawsuit Tuesday seeking to block the mandate, arguing it’s an unfair labor practice and violates employees’ free speech and privacy rights. Shane Fausey, the president of the Council of Prison Locals, said in a letter to members that more than 3,500 federal Bureau of Prisons employees — about 10% of the agency’s workforce — were being issued counseling letters and face possible termination for not complying with the mandate.
Fausey’s letter repeated misinformation about the vaccine, including claims that it doesn’t stop the spread of COVID-19 and that it does not reduce the “overall adverse medical effects of the virus.” Lawyers Bruce Castor and Michael van der Veen, who represented former President Donald Trump at his second impeachment trial, are representing the union.
As of late October, several intelligence agencies apparently had at least 20% of their workforce unvaccinated, said Republican Rep. Chris Stewart of Utah, a member of the House Intelligence Committee.
Some of the initial fears about the vaccination status of the federal workforce stemmed from employees without access to government computers to make their vaccination certification. Some, like front-line Transportation Security Administration officers, rarely use a government computer. Others are in the field or simply delayed responding to the survey or beginning vaccination.
The federal vaccination rate outpaces the rate of vaccination for all Americans. About 82.2% of American adults, or more than 212 million people, have received at least one dose. Of them about 71%, or over 183 million, are fully vaccinated.
___ Associated Press Writer Michael R. Sisak contributed to this report.