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Biden official tells businesses to ignore court order on vaccine mandate

Published Nov 9th, 2021 9:12PM EST
biden vaccine mandate
Image: Chris Kleponis - Pool via CNP/MEGA

Former FDA commissioner and Pfizer board member Dr. Scott Gottlieb shared some thoughts via his Twitter account over the weekend about a federal court temporarily pausing the implementation of the Biden vaccine mandate. He included some well-reasoned, level-headed commentary about whether there are less heavy-handed alternatives to reaching the goals that everyone wants during the coronavirus pandemic — without resorting to mandates. Not that he was offering a capitulation of some kind to anti-vaxxers.

In fact, his point in bringing all that up actually represents an understanding of the following. Overreach during a health crisis like the one we’re in now? It can have profound secondary effects. “The risk is organized opposition to this OSHA mandate starts to bleed into broader opposition to vaccination and vaccine mandates more generally, and mandates society long embraced become part of this new political fashion,” Gottlieb tweeted. “And a whole generation starts to turn against vaccines.” There is a real danger, in other words, in not getting buy-in from the public during a pandemic. Especially when misinformation, half-truths, and distortions are so readily available thanks to the internet and social media. And that brings us to an interaction that made headlines on Monday, involving the White House deputy press secretary.

Biden vaccine order – latest news

Nurse giving vaccine to patient
A patient is shown getting a vaccination from a nurse. Image source: tirachard/Adobe

White House press secretary Jen Psaki is currently recovering from COVID. In her place for the press briefings, temporarily, is deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

Over the weekend, the US Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit — regarded as one of the more conservative-leaning appellate courts in the US — ordered a pause to the Biden vaccine mandate’s implementation. Up to that point, the Biden administration had issued an order covering businesses with 100 or more employees. That mandate is enforceable by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (or, OSHA).

Essentially, those businesses must ensure that their workforces are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by early January. Unvaccinated workers at that point would have to show a negative COVID test before they can enter their workplace. And all unvaccinated workers would have to start masking indoors on December 5.

The court of appeals ruling paused the implementation of all that, however. That’s because a number of lawsuits have been filed challenging the order’s constitutionality.

OSHA vaccine mandate update

So, on Monday, a reporter asked Jean-Pierre a perfectly natural and obvious question. What’s the administration’s message to business owners now? Since those business owners would read the headlines about the court of appeals freeze and wonder — okay, what do we do now?

Jean-Pierre’s answer: Get your employees vaccinated. Which, of course, essentially ignores the court-ordered pause on the mandate’s implementation.

You can see the exchange in the video above. “People should not wait,” Jean-Pierre says in answer to the question. “They should continue to move forward and make sure they’re getting their workplace vaccinated.”

Of course, she could have simply changed just a couple of words in her answer, and it would have not made it seem like she was telling businesses to flout the court-ordered pause. If she would have responded that the administration’s position is that all eligible Americans should get vaccinated as soon as possible? At least it wouldn’t have seemed like a directive to business owners. Even though that’s a distinction without a difference. Since the employees of business owners are also, you know, Americans.

So, what now?

Georgetown University law professor David Vladeck told CNBC that there’s a “high probability” the litigation around this mandate will end up before the Supreme Court.

Meantime, the latest estimates show that we’re already approaching the end of the coronavirus pandemic in the US anyway — even separate from the business mandates. According to Gottlieb? The CDC estimates around 75% to 80% of all Americans, including children, have some degree of immunity to COVID by now. That’s either from a vaccine or by actually contracting the virus.

The transition of this crisis from the pandemic stage to a more flu-like endemic stage, in other words, is at hand. Children are getting the vaccine now. Therapeutics are also coming online to fight the virus in tandem with vaccines. We’re closer to the end of this thing, in other words, than the beginning.

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.