Healthcare

GOP senators call on Biden to back down from vaccine mandates

A group of Republican senators on Thursday sent a letter to the White House calling on President Biden to back down from his COVID-19 vaccine mandate policies.

The group, led by Sens. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) and Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), said the administration's executive order requiring all federal employees and contractors to be vaccinated, as well as a forthcoming Labor Department rule that will require many companies to implement coronavirus vaccination or testing protocols for their workers, are unconstitutional.

"While the Supreme Court has upheld the ability of states to mandate vaccines during a pandemic, there is no precedent for the federal government to mandate vaccines for contractors, private employers, or individual Americans," the GOP senators wrote. 

Republican opposition to vaccine mandates has come from both the federal and state level. Thursday's letter comes on the same day Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) announced that he is calling a special session of the state legislature to pass bills aimed at fighting COVID-19 vaccine mandates.  

In September, every GOP senator voted for an amendment to block Biden's regulation on businesses.  

The White House has sought to argue that GOP governors like DeSantis and Texas's Greg Abbott are putting politics ahead of health, while opponents of mandates have cast the White House as abridging personal freedoms and of overreach.

"Vaccines are important in slowing the spread of the coronavirus, however, the decision on whether or not to get vaccinated is a personal choice and should not be unilaterally decided by the President. These unconstitutional actions are not only unprecedented, but they are also a vast federal overreach into individual liberties, personal health decisions, and private enterprise," the senators wrote. 

Health experts have praised mandates as an effective way to get people vaccinated, and the White House has fully leaned into them as a way to turn the tide of the pandemic, after initially steering clear of federal intervention.

In speeches, Biden has argued that government officials exhausted various other options to nudge people to get vaccinated. 

The administration purchased enough vaccines to ensure every American could get the shot, expanded eligibility and access, and offered incentives for those who were still holding out during the summer, but a part of the U.S. population did not get the shot.

A White House analysis released earlier this month found vaccination rates increased by more than 20 percent in companies, educational institutions, health systems and public sector agencies that have required their employees to get the shot. 

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