VAMY fed workers

THEY GOT THE MESSAGE: By the morning of a Nov. 22 deadline, the White House's head of a vaccination effort for Federal employees reported that 90-percent of them had been inoculated against the coronavirus and another 5 percent were in compliance with the mandate issued by President Biden two months earlier.

Ninety percent of the Federal Government's 3.5-million workers had been vaccinated and another 5 percent were in compliance with the conditions of the mandate President Biden announced in early September, Jeff Zients, the White House COVID coordinator, told reporters at a Nov. 22 briefing.

"So we are successfully implementing vaccination requirements for the largest workforce in the United States, with Federal employees in every part of the nation and around the world," he said. "For example, we have 98- percent compliance at the IRS, with nearly 25 percent of IRS employees getting vaccinated after the President announced the requirement. At the FBI, 99-percent compliance. "And we're well set up for the holiday travel season, with nearly 98-percent compliance in the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 93 percent at [the Transportation  Security Administration], and 99 percent at the [Federal Aviation Administration]."

Steady Increase in Shots

Speaking on the day when Federal workers were required to come into compliance with the Biden mandate, Mr. Zients emphasized that "the goal of vaccination requirements is to protect workers, not to punish them. So, tonight's deadline is not an endpoint or a cliff. We continue to see more and more Federal employees getting their shots. And for the small percentage of employees who have not yet complied, agencies are beginning the education and counseling process."

"On Friday [Nov. 19] the Bureau of Prisons put out 3,500 notices of counseling for individuals who have not been vaccinated or uploaded their vaccination information into the agency portal," said Tyrone Covington, president of American Federation of Government Employees Local 3148, representing employees at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in lower Manhattan, which is in the process of being shuttered.

He said the bureau has roughly 35,000 employees, which would suggest a 90-percent compliance rate. "The national union has just completed negotiations with the agency, and there's no discipline until the reasonable accommodations claims are fully adjudicated," Mr. Covington said.

Paul C. Light, the Paulette Goddard Professor of Public Service at NYU's Wagner School who is an expert on the civil service, said during a phone interview that the milestone was "a big achievement—actually quite remarkable, and goes a long way to countering the stereotype of civil servants being lazy and disinterested. This is a competency story that needs to be told."

AFGE Leader's Lament

Early this year, AFGE President Everett Kelley, used a video message on the website of the largest Federal-employee union website to promote vaccination to his members with a reference to the toll the coronavirus had taken among them during 2020. "Unfortunately, in that time we lost hundreds of members of AFGE to this awful disease," he said. "That's why it is so important that we all take this opportunity to get vaccinated."

In July, Mr. Biden issued an executive order requiring all Federal workers to either get vaccinated or submit to regular testing.

That same month, after virus outbreaks sparked by the Delta variant among employees at U.S. Veterans Affairs health-care facilities in Little Rock, Baltimore, Orlando and Chicago that left the agency short-staffed, Secretary for Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough mandated vaccinations for the agency's 115,000 health-care workers.

The VA is the largest integrated health-care system in the U.S. with close to 1,300 facilities, including 171 VA Medical Centers serving over nine million veterans.

More than 200 VA employees and over 15,000 Veteran Affairs patients have died from the virus.

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Mandatory Inoculation

By September, as the Delta variant was surging, the President signed another executive order removing the testing option and required vaccination for all Federal workers as well as government contractors' employees.

In an interview after the mandate was announced, Mr. Kelley said the Biden administration had taken a collaborative approach with the union, which he said was a welcomed change from the Trump administration's adversarial strategy.

The most tangible evidence of the new tone was Mr. Biden's creation of the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force, led by the White House COVID-19 Response Team that included the General Services Administration, the Office of Personnel Management, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the VA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Protective Service, the Office of Management and Budget and the U.S. Secret Service.

Cases Rising Again

But the administration rejected the AFGE's request to extend the deadline for all Federal workers to be vaccinated to correspond with the Jan. 18 deadline it imposed for Federal contractors.

The success of the Federal employee vaccine program came as public-health officials reported an uptick in cases, with a seven-day daily average of about 92,800 per day, an 18-percent increase from early in November. The seven-day average of hospital admissions was about 5,600 per day, a 6-percent increase from the prior week. The country's average deaths from the virus were about 1,000 per day.

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