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White House finalizes details of vaccine requirement and expects to release details this week

Some Republicans have vowed to challenge the Biden administration’s pending rule, but courts have so far allowed mandates to proceed.

President Biden speaks in the State Dining Room of the White House on Sept. 9, 2021, about combating the coronavirus pandemic. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

The coming federal rule that will require private companies in the United States to mandate vaccinations or regular testing among their workers has been finalized by the White House, in advance of its likely public release this week.

The Labor Department said Monday morning that the Office of Management and Budget had completed its regulatory review of the rule, called an emergency temporary standard. The rule is one of the Biden administration’s most ambitious attempts to increase vaccination rates to corral the pandemic, after the surge of the delta variant this summer showed the country’s continued vulnerability to the ravages of the virus.

It was drafted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration under orders from the White House. The rule will apply to companies that have more than 100 employees, and it has already been drawing fierce opposition, both in and out of court, from the anti-vaccine faction of the country’s right wing. A number of Republican state attorneys general have vowed to challenge the rule once it is made public.

The effectiveness of any legal challenge, however, is unclear. Government vaccine mandates, like those in New York, Chicago and California, have thus far withstood legal challenges, as have private mandates imposed by big companies and hospital systems.

But they have often been met with a small but fierce resistance.

In Chicago, as a deadline neared, Mayor Lori Lightfoot softened the city’s vaccine mandate for municipal workers by allowing a twice-weekly testing option, at the employee’s expense, instead of vaccination. The rule had drawn pushback from police and other union groups.

In New York, vaccine reluctance in some departments has also been pronounced. While at least 91 percent of the city’s overall workforce had gotten at least one shot in advance of Monday’s deadline, the rate lagged for police (84 percent), sanitation workers (79 percent) and the fire department (78 percent), according to data from Saturday compiled by Gothamist.

Those groups of workers have hosted a series of protests around the city in the past week, including at Gracie Mansion, the mayor’s residence. Officials have said that those who missed the deadline would be placed on leave without pay, raising questions about whether the agencies could face labor shortages that lead to service cuts.

In many cases, private companies and hospitals have shown more success at imposing vaccine requirements.

United Airlines said its employee vaccination rate increased to more than 99 percent after it instituted a mandate. Many hospitals in New York and California saw vaccination rates increase to more than 90 percent by deadlines for health-care worker mandates.

Republicans gird for battle and businesses brace for details of Biden's new vaccine requirement.

Many questions remain about the rule, which is expected to apply to some 80 million workers. Some companies in particular have been concerned about the time frame in which they will be required to implement the new protocols, with the busy holiday season coming up and labor shortages and supply chain issues already creating problems in many sectors.

Many have also wondered who will pay for the testing protocols at companies that choose to institute them, although some city governments and private companies have passed that cost on to employees.

The rule will also require employers to provide paid time off for workers to get vaccinated and recover from any side effects, the Labor Department said Monday.

A number of Republican-controlled states have sought to pass legislation to preempt or weaken the federal rule, although legal experts say federal laws on workplace safety typically trump state requirements if the state rules are less stringent.

Iowa enacted a law Friday that will allow people fired for not complying with vaccine requirements to claim unemployment benefits. The Iowa law also seeks to broaden eligibility for medical and religious exemptions under state law.

The OSHA rule will take effect as soon as it is published in the Federal Register. New agency head Doug Parker, OSHA’s first Senate-confirmed leader since the Obama administration, starts this week.

The White House has been touting the increases in the country’s vaccination rate as a sign of the effectiveness of the president’s campaign.

Ben Wakana, a White House deputy director of strategic communications and engagement, said Monday that 70 percent of adults in the United States were fully vaccinated — and 80 percent have received at least one shot — in what he called a major milestone. He said this amounted to more than 190 million people receiving at least one dose of the vaccine.