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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott bans coronavirus vaccine mandates, including for private businesses

With a new executive order, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) is banning any vaccine mandates in his state, including those by private businesses. (Eric Gay/AP)

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Monday banned any entity in his state — including private businesses — from mandating coronavirus vaccines for workers or customers, expanding prior executive orders from his office that prohibited state government entities from imposing similar requirements.

Abbott’s move puts him at odds with some large corporations and with the Biden administration, which last month announced plans to require all employers with 100 or more workers to adopt vaccine mandates or testing regimens. A number of large private companies in Texas have issued mandates.

On Tuesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki attributed Abbott’s decision to “politics.”

“I think it’s pretty clear when you make a choice that’s against all public health information and data out there that it’s not based on what is in the interests of the people you are governing,” she told reporters. “It’s perhaps in the interests of your own politics.”

“If indeed the mandate now is everyone must be vaccinated or . . . tested once a week, we will obviously comply by that mandate,” Doug Parker, chief executive of Fort Worth-based American Airlines, said in a Washington Post Live interview in September.

“All along, as we’ve been going through this, we have been considering mandates and may have done one on our own. But what we wanted to do was do everything we could first to encourage everyone to do so,” he said.

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines last week gave all employees until Dec. 8 to get vaccinated or face possible termination. (Many U.S. airlines also are government contractors, which must meet a Dec. 8 federal deadline for coronavirus vaccinations.) Telecom giant AT&T, also based in Dallas, in August ordered most of its management employees to get vaccinated by this week. Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, headquartered in Houston, announced a similar move the same month.

Abbott called the Biden administration’s sweeping plan “yet another instance of federal overreach,” saying in his order that the administration is “bullying” private entities into vaccine mandates, hurting the livelihoods of Texans and threatening the state’s economic recovery from the pandemic.

President Biden had appeared dismissive of earlier legal threats by a group of Republican governors including Abbott over his vaccine mandates, saying, “Have at it.”

Johns Hopkins University epidemiologist Gypsyamber D'Souza explains how the U.S. can reach coronavirus herd immunity and what happens if that goal is missed. (Video: Brian Monroe, John Farrell/The Washington Post)

Republicans gird for battle and businesses brace for details of Biden’s new vaccine rule

Violators will face a fine up to $1,000, according to the order, which will remain in effect until the Republican-dominated Texas legislature passes a law that formalizes it, Abbott said. The ban covers any person who objects to vaccination “for any reason of personal conscience, based on a religious belief, or for medical reasons, including prior recovery from COVID-19.”

But Abbott, who is fully vaccinated, still urged those eligible to receive a coronavirus vaccine to do so.

In July, Abbott restricted local governments and state entities from levying vaccine mandates. In March, he repealed mask mandates, an order that has since been overridden by some courts in the state.

Arguments that mask mandates violate an individual’s constitutional right to liberty might not cut it with the Supreme Court. Here's why. (Video: Drea Cornejo/The Washington Post)

Abbott is also facing political challenges from within his party, whose most vocal members have railed against vaccine and mask mandates.

Don Huffines, a former Texas state senator who is challenging Abbott for the GOP candidacy in next year’s gubernatorial race, tweeted that Abbott’s move had been long overdue.

“Greg Abbott is a political windsock and today proves it,” he said. “He knows conservative Republican voters are tired of the vaccine mandates and tired of him being a failed leader.”

About 15 million Texans have been fully vaccinated, or just over half of the nation’s second-most populous state, according to The Washington Post coronavirus vaccination tracker. The United States as a whole has vaccinated about 56 percent of its residents.

Texas’s deaths and new daily infections have been gradually falling in recent weeks, after the state suffered increases in both tallies this summer amid the spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus.

Coronavirus: What you need to know

The latest: The CDC has loosened many of its recommendations for battling the coronavirus, a strategic shift that puts more of the onus on individuals, rather than on schools, businesses and other institutions, to limit viral spread.

Variants: BA.5 is the most recent omicron subvariant, and it’s quickly become the dominant strain in the U.S. Here’s what to know about it, and why vaccines may only offer limited protection.

Vaccines: Vaccines: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone age 12 and older get an updated coronavirus booster shot designed to target both the original virus and the omicron variant circulating now. You’re eligible for the shot if it has been at least two months since your initial vaccine or your last booster. An initial vaccine series for children under 5, meanwhile, became available this summer. Here’s what to know about how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections and booster history.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. The omicron variant is behind much of the recent spread.

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