WASHINGTON ― President Joe Biden on Thursday announced sweeping new federal vaccine requirements affecting as many as 100 million Americans in an all-out effort to increase COVID-19 vaccinations and curb the surging delta variant.
Biden announced the requirements in a Thursday afternoon address from the White House as part of a new “action plan” to address the latest rise in coronavirus cases and the stagnating pace of COVID-19 shots.
The expansive rules mandate that all employers with more than 100 workers require them to be vaccinated or test for the virus weekly, affecting about 80 million Americans.
Biden also signed an executive order to require vaccination for employees of the executive branch and contractors who do business with the federal government — with no option to test out. That covers several million more workers.
“If you want to work with the federal government, do business with us? Get vaccinated,” Biden said.
The mandate could have sweeping implications for the defense industry, which includes most of the largest government contractors. One trade group, the National Defense Industrial Association, immediately hailed the Biden administration’s move.
“The best scenario for the defense industrial base is to beat Covid and be fully functioning and flourishing. These orders will help us all get there,” NDIA said in a statement, adding that the organization has encouraged anyone working in defense to get vaccinated and follow mask mandates and protocols.
“NDIA has supported individual company and state guidance for workers, and now does the same for the federal mandate,” the organization added.
The Aerospace Industries Association said it will work with the administration and federal agencies to understand what Biden’s executive order means for its members employees and operations.
“Our members have been proactive in encouraging vaccines and making information about them available to their employees. They’ve also implemented extensive measures to enhance workplace health and safety throughout the pandemic,” said an AIA spokeswoman.
For some defense firms, the mandate dovetails with efforts underway. For example, Reston, Va.-based Leidos said in a statement it already announced internally that all of its employees would need to be vaccinated by Oct. 1 or provide a negative COVID-19 test result to access a Leidos facility.
“We will review and appropriately address any [executive orders] that come out from the administration,” the company said in an email.
Defense industry titan Lockheed Martin said in a statement it would continue to comply with government directives aimed at ending the pandemic.
“As we have done throughout the pandemic, we continue to follow federal, state and local mandates, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to minimize the spread of COVID-19,” the company said in a statement after Biden’s announcement. “We also use other best practices to mitigate risks and protect the health and well-being of our employees and partners, while ensuring we meet our commitments to national security.”
In a statement, defense contractor BAE Systems said the company is “aware of the executive order, and we are working to understand its impact on our business.”
“We have been and will continue to encourage our employees who are able to get vaccinated against COVID-19, to do so,” the contractor added.
Several lawmakers immediately lashed out against the moves, including New York Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik, a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, who called it a “forced illegal mandate.”
“Joe Biden’s forced vaccine mandate impacting over 100 million Americans is unconstitutional, unlawful, and an authoritarian power grab that has become a hallmark of his failed Presidency,” Stefanik said in a statement.
Democratic Rep. Don Beyer, whose Virginia district is packed with federal workers and contractors, said the new moves were “absolutely the correct call by President Biden.”
“Requiring every federal worker and contractor to receive a safe, free, lifesaving Covid vaccination is a necessary and important step to protect both the federal workforce and the people they serve,” he said.
Joe Gould is senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry.