Return to Transcripts main page
The Lead with Jake Tapper
More Companies Tell Employees: Get Vaxxed or Get Fired; Biden Announces Vaccine Requirement for All Federal Employees; Biden Announces Vaccine Requirement for All Federal Employees. Aired 4-5p ET
Aired July 29, 2021 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Look, they've tried beer, blunts, even Olivia Rodrigo, so now it's come to this.
THE LEAD starts right now.
Breaking news, President Biden about to announce any minute a new vaccine requirement for federal employees after hitting what he calls a brick wall in the effort to breakthrough to more unvaccinated Americans. So will you maybe have to get a shot to go to work?
With new data that shows delta variants only need one second to spread, new mask mandates from the nation's capital to your kids' classroom, to the Magic Kingdom as a war over masks shapes up in the Sunshine State.
Plus, the gold standard, the American who stepped up in Simone Biles absence to grab the gold. Hear her inspiring journey to Tokyo, coming up.
TAPPER: Hey, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
We're going to start with the health lead, of course. Any moment now, we're going to hear a major announcement from President Biden who is looking to shake the nation out of its relative complacency when it comes to vaccinations. Biden is expected to announce new requirements for federal workers requiring everyone in all agencies get a vaccine or show proof of regular negative COVID tests.
This comes as a slew of major corporations go even one step further, taking away the choice from Google to Netflix, Morgan Stanley, many more, they're all now mandating vaccines for all of their employees. The momentum moves away from the encouragement period of this pandemic and this more aggressive vaccine push comes as the risk of the highly contagious delta variant becomes even clearer, health officials say. They say it did not have to be this way, but tens of millions of Americans continue to refuse to get the vaccine.
As CNN's Athena Jones reports, nearly two-thirds of all Americans now live in a COVID hot spot with that number growing every day. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
DR. RICHARD BESSER, FORMER ACTING CDC DIRECTOR: We're requiring everyone who works in the building to be vaccinated.
ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Pressure is building on the unvaccinated to get vaccinated.
DR. PAUL OFFIT, DIRECTOR, VACCINE EDUCATION CENTER, CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL OF PHILADELPHIA: We have an undervaccinated population that's allowing this virus to spread, and I think we've gotten to the point where you have to compel people to do the right thing.
JONES: With new COVID cases surging in most states, more and more businesses now instituting vaccination or testing requirements to protect their staff and their customers.
DANNY MEYER, OWNER, UNION SQUARE HOSPITALITY GROUP: We have a really, really serious responsibility to our staff members and to our guests to make sure that it is a safe working environment and a safe place to dine.
JONES: So are schools like Duke University where students who don't get vaccinated.
MIKE SCHOENFELD, DUKE UNIVERSITY, VP FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS AND GOVERNMENT RELATIONS: They will not be able to enroll in school. They'll be suspended until they get a vaccination.
JONES: The daily pace of vaccinations is up over 35 percent from last week to the highest level in three weeks.
DR. JONATHAN REINER, PROFESSOR OF MEDICINE & SURGERY, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Now the virus is back and the people who weren't vaccinated because they thought there was nothing to fear are now starting to get the message.
JONES: Still, the U.S. is averaging more than 63,000 new infections a day, up nearly 60 percent over last week's seven-day average. Louisiana where just 37 percent are fully vaccinated seeing the biggest jump in its seven-day average of new cases per capita. Some hospitals there stretched thin.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our hospitals are full, our emergency departments are full.
JONES: And with almost 70 percent of the country living in a county with high or substantial COVID transmission where the CDC says everyone should wear masks indoors in public, Washington D.C.'s mayor and Baltimore County public schools today announcing indoor mask mandates for everyone, regardless of vaccination status.
And starting tomorrow, masks are mandatory indoors for those age 2 and older at Disneyland in California and Walt Disney World in Florida.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here are the masks that have been enslaving our children.
JONES: But a showdown on masks in schools in the Sunshine State looks increasingly likely with Broward County's school board approving a mask mandate and Miami-Dade County's board considering one, Governor Ron DeSantis hinting he could call a legislative session to ensure masks remain optional in schools.
GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: I think it's very important that we say unequivocally no to lockdowns, no to school closures, no to restrictions, and no mandates.
JONES (on camera): And when it comes to bringing back an indoor mask mandate right here in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio says he'll have more to say about that on Monday, adding he wants to, quote, keep the focus on the one thing that will make a difference, which is vaccination -- Jake.
TAPPER: Athena Jones, thank you so much.
Joining us live to discuss, Dr. Peter Hotez, co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children's Hospital.
Doctor, thanks for joining us.
Here in Washington, D.C., the mayor is re-implementing an indoor mask requirement for everyone over the age of 2, even if we are fully vaccinated.
What is the risk for a room full of vaccinated people that, one, vaccinated person would have COVID and then transmit it to another vaccinated person? It strikes me that it would probably be rather narrow.
DR. PETER HOTEZ, CO-DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR VACCINE DEVELOPMENT AT TEXAS CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL: Yeah, certainly if you've had a room full of vaccinated people, the risk is probably relatively low. The problem is that situation doesn't happen very often. If you have a gathering of significant numbers of people, we still have a lot of unvaccinated people in the United States unfortunately, and, of course, anybody under the age of 12 by definition is not going to be vaccinated. So you're going to have a lot of virus circulating.
And, you know, once we can do better at vaccinating the whole country at a higher level than we are right now, I think we might be able to go back to what we had before. But remember, Jake, this virus has what's known as a reproductive number of five to six. What that means if a single person gets infected, on average, they'll infect five or six other people.
And based on that information, what that means is we have to vaccinate about 85 percent of the entire population of the United States to slow or eventually halt transmission, and that -- because right off the top you factor out the young kids, that basically means all the adults and adolescents have to be vaccinated in the United States, and you might say, well, that's not possible. Well, of course it is. It's already getting there in Vermont and Massachusetts.
The problem that we face, Jake, is down here in the south where, you know, you look at a state like Louisiana where 17 -- only 17 percent of the adolescents are vaccinated, maybe 30 to 40 percent of the young adults, and now schools are going to open down here in a couple of weeks in some of the Louisiana Parishes. This isn't going to go well. This virus, as bad as things are right now, it's about to get much worse --
HOTEZ: -- when schools open in the South, and I think that's what we're dealing with.
TAPPER: Right, so but just in terms of D.C., right, does a mask mandate make more sense than a vaccine mandate? I mean, if the problem is so many people are unvaccinated, would it not make more sense -- and look, I don't propose policy, but I'm just reacting to Mayor Bowser's announcement, she's saying we all have to wear masks indoors if we're vaccinated.
Would a vaccine mandate make more sense than that?
HOTEZ: Well, ideally, you do both actually. I mean, yes, I agree, vaccine mandates would be the most effective way to do this, but masks still provide an important backstop, especially with the performance feature of -- against the delta variant that you're still seeing some asymptomatic transmission going on. So, ideally, the more you could do the better. Those are our two best defenses against this virus are vaccines and masks.
So I don't know what the politics are in Washington, D.C., around vaccine mandates. You know, across the country, vaccine policies usually sit at the state level. We have a lot of issues here in some of our southern states for doing that. It would be great to implement both if possible.
TAPPER: I don't think any state has implemented a vaccine mandate. We are seeing a deluge of private companies now telling their employees if you want to return to work, if you want to continue to work, you have to get vaccinated. You tweeted some skepticism that this is going to work. Why?
HOTEZ: I think, you know, the anti-vaccine aggression is just so dominant right now, it's hard to see how we're going to be able to implement this easily or successfully until we do something about taking down some of the anti-vaccine content. And I get it, I mean, people are -- employers are frustrated. We've done everything we can to encourage people to get vaccinated in terms of pro-vaccine messaging.
I think the next -- and this is why we have to have mandates. I think it was the right move not to push too hard on this, at least in the beginning, but as we run out of options, this may be the only one left. I just think it's going to be very hard to do this successfully when you have all of the anti-vaccine content dominating the Internet right now. I think it's -- I think we need to be looking at, you know, the center for encountering digital hate has a plan to de-platform some of the major offenders at the non-governmental level, and we've got to work harder with some of the far right activities, like we saw at CPAC, around the conservative news channels.
And we have to work harder with the Russian government. Now, U.S. and British intelligence reports that the Russian government is piling on anti-vaccine content as a wedge issue to divide our country, and what I've called on the Biden administration to do is to get -- bring in some people from outside the health sector to get advice on how to take this down and create an interagency task force that includes the health and human services agencies.
But we need help. We need help from Homeland Security. We need help from the Commerce Department, from the Justice Department and the State Department to do something about the weaponized health communication that's coming out of Russia.
And until we also do that, things are going to not -- things are going to be really rough now for the next few weeks and months over these mandates.
TAPPER: Dr. Peter Hotez, thanks so much. Good to see you, sir.
The president is expected to officially announce these new vaccine requirements any moment. We will bring that to you live. We're going to squeeze in a quick break.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: We're expecting President Biden to speak at the White House any second. He's expected to announce a new vaccine requirement for all federal employees. Sources tell CNN that the president feels the U.S. has hit a brick wall when it comes to trying to convince the unvaccinated.
Frequently, he asks his top aides, quote, what's the problem?
So, now, as CNN's Jeff Zeleny reports the White House is hoping that these new requirements will serve as a model for private companies and state and local governments to enact similar rules for their employees.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So please, please, please, please, if you're not vaccinated --
JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Biden is no longer simply asking Americans to get vaccinated, he's requiring them to or at least those who work for the federal government.
BIDEN: We still have a lot of people not vaccinated. The pandemic we have now is a pandemic of the unvaccinated.
ZELENY: The president is calling on local governments to provide an incentive payment of $100 for every newly vaccinated American. He's also directing the Department of Defense to study how to add COVID-19 to the list of vaccinations already required of service members.
As case loads surge across the country, the White House is taking a tougher stand today on vaccine hesitancy, ordering federal employees to be vaccinated or face tougher testing, masking, and other requirements.
It stops short of an all-out mandate, but it's a remarkable shift in the administration's fight against COVID-19. The president has repeatedly declined to blame or shame those who haven't gotten their shot -- a stance that is fading fast.
BIDEN: If you're not vaccinated, you're not nearly as smart as I thought you were.
ZELENY: White House officials believe the president does not have the power to require all Americans to get shots, but they say he does have that authority over a work force of some 2 million people.
But officials believe the president's actions can be a model for private businesses, more and more of which are already taking steps to require employees to get vaccinated.
KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRINCIPAL DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: We see ourselves as a model for other companies and other organizations, and that's something that we don't take lightly.
ZELENY: With the delta variant stubbornly rising, the White House is in a far different mind-set than officials had hoped at the beginning of the summer.
BIDEN: Let me repeat, if you are fully vaccinated, you no longer need to wear a mask.
ZELENY: But that's no longer the case. As summer wanes and school openings are just around the corner, the administration is suddenly facing new uncertainty about a pandemic that officials only recently believed was under control.
One top Biden adviser telling CNN we were winning the fight against COVID but no one ever said it was over. Now that's more clear than ever. It's not over.
ZELENY: That is exactly the message that President Biden will be conveying. This fight is not over. That's why they are really trying to reach out to those non-vaccinated federal workers. Jake, a couple things we're learning now about this speech to happen
any moment, it is that $100 incentive encouraging local ask state governments to give to people who have not gotten vaccinations. They point to a finding from a supermarket, the Kroger supermarket that did it earlier this summer and they say their vaccination rate went up 50 percent to 75 percent.
We've seen other incentives in other states not work as well. But, Jake, perhaps the most important is the Department of Defense. The president will ask the Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to study how COVID-19 can be added to the list of vaccinations already required of service members. But important to note, at least as of now, we do not believe the president will be calling on the service members to be included in this requirement today -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right, Jeff Zeleny, thanks so much.
And while we wait for President Biden to come out, let's talk about this.
We should note also that the fed -- the requirement he's about to introduce on federal employees to all get vaccinated, that does not apply to Congress, which is a separate branch, even though it's the federal government. He's not mandating whether Congress has to do that.
Alice, take a listen to Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy pushing back against the new CDC guidance today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), MINORITY LEADER: The CDC has become a political arm of the administration who wants to control every element of our life. We will not allow the CDC to be political. We'll base decisions on science and we'll fight for the American people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: What science is he talking about it?
ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, clearly he doesn't really understand not only science but the numbers here.
Look, he can make this political all he wants this is a health care issue, and while they may want to ignore science, you cannot ignore the numbers, Jake. We know what the numbers are. We see the rise in these cases going back up again, and I think the most compelling and overwhelmingly convincing argument for vaccines is that currently 97 percent of those in the hospital with COVID are unvaccinated.
STEWART: I don't know what other number they can have or what science they need to make the case more than get vaccinated because it certainly keeps you safer. It keeps others around you safer, and it protects you from this delta variant, 83 percent of these new cases are this new variant, which is much more dangerous.
So, I think we need to just take the politics out of this and just use good common sense and look at the numbers.
TAPPER: The truth of the matter is this -- I don't like this mask mandate. I mean, I'm not looking forward to putting a mask back on, but what they're talking about is if I get infected, not that I'm going to get sick, but that I can spread it to somebody who is unvaccinated, whether it's my 11-year-old son or somebody who is a cancer patient or somebody who refuses to get the shot.
And on that subject, Jamal, McCarthy said yesterday talking about why these mask requirements are not needed that 85 percent of Congress is vaccinated. So, our Kristen Wilson (ph) crunched the numbers. If 85 percent of Congress is vaccinated and every Democrat has said that they are vaccinated, that means 16 percent of unvaccinated, they're all Republicans, and that means there are 65 Republicans who have not gotten vaccinated.
Wouldn't it not make more sense to get them vaccinated so that you wouldn't have to have these health requirements to wear a mask in the House?
JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC POLITICAL ANALYST: It would make sense, but it seems like that's not something anybody's interested in doing, and the reality also is these 65 Republicans are probably coming from places that have high COVID rates. Why? Because that tends to correlate with Republican communities who are more mask -- or more vaccine hesitant.
So, it just seems like these walking time bombs of Republicans who are walking through the House could easily infect someone else. You're talking about kids. To me, it just seems like we need to create a safe zone around kids, right? If you see a child that you don't know, you're in public, put a mask on around the kid because you know that 10 or 11-year-old like yours or 2-year-old or 3-year-old like mine, they're not -- they're not vaccinated. So, like, why don't we just mask up to protect the kids.
TAPPER: Is the White House ready for this, Kaitlyn? This is about to become -- you see Ron DeSantis, you see all these other people, even people who are pro-vaccine. Governor DeSantis has been pro-vaccine. They are ready for this to become a political issue, stay out of our lives, stop telling us to wear masks, et cetera.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, and the question for these states is what are we supposed to do. The CDC has updated guidance about wearing masks in schools. Anyone in schools, even if you're unvaccinated teacher, you're supposed to wear a mask, according to the CDC guidelines. There are eight states that have banned requiring masks in schools.
And so, we asked the White House, what is your plan for something on this small of scale, they said, I'm glad I don't live there, and what are these localities going to do? Those are big decisions, though, that these teachers and educators are going to have as they're going back to schools.
On the bigger scale of this fight, this is what the administration feels like they're up against. And so, President Biden is expected to be more aggressive towards the unvaccinated today. So far they have said we're not going to put blame on these people. We don't think that's more effective.
It seems like looking at the data that they've looked at over the last week when it comes to the delta variant, it's changed their opinion about how to approach it.
TAPPER: And we should note, Ayesha, it's not just MAGA Republicans that are vaccine skeptics. There are a lot of people. First of all, one of the disinformation dozen out there is Robert Kennedy Jr., the anti-vaxxer who's been sullying his family's name for decades now. We have a disproportionately unvaccinated Americans in the black community, in the Latin American community, the Latino community.
This is still a problem, and it's not just political.
AYESHA RASCOE, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NPR: It's not just political. People have different reasons for not getting vaccinated. Some people haven't been able to get off work or get there or figure out how to get everything done. And some people are just genuinely skeptical of a vaccine that is an emergency authorization, has not been fully authorized by the FDA. So they are concerned about that.
Now, obviously when you're concerned about long-term effects, the problem is that we know that one of the long-term effects of COVID is death. You won't even live to find out the long-term effects of the vaccine because you will not live if you catch COVID. Like, that's part of the issue.
But the government has not been able to convince people. They have tried the carrots. Now they're going to try the sticks, and part of the issue is that not only is this political, but when you have people who are convinced that they don't want to do this, it is very difficult to make an adult do something that they just simply do not want to do. One thing that has seemed to help is when the cases have gone up.
TAPPER: Yah. Here's President Biden, let's listen in.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good afternoon.
Today I want to talk to you about COVID-19. Maybe the best way to start is a significant part of the country wouldn't have to take one of these off if you don't have to put one on like in my home state of Delaware, where I live, in New Castle County, where I was yesterday in Pennsylvania because people got vaccinated. They got vaccinated. They don't need a mask when the majority of the -- the vast majority of the people got vaccinated.
Look, I want to talk about what's really happening. What it means, what it doesn't mean, and what we need to do this week and the months ahead. From the moment I was elected, I said I'd always give it to you straight from the shoulder, and we need some straight talk right now, because there's a lot of fear and misinformation in the country, and we need to cut through it with facts, with science, with the truth.
So what's really happening today? After months and months of cases going down, we're seeing a spike in COVID cases. They're going up. Why? Because of this new form, this variant called the delta variant. This is a much different variant than the one we dealt with previously. It's highly transmissible, and it's causing a new wave of cases in those that are not vaccinated.
Our experts tell me that cases will go up further before they start to come back down. While cases are on the rise, they're not -- we're not likely to see according to experts a comparable rise in hospitalizations or deaths in most areas of the country.
So, you have to ask yourself, why is that? Because 164 million Americans are fully vaccinated, including 80 percent of the most vulnerable, our seniors.
So there's a challenge as you knew there could be. But there's also good news. We've spent the last six months preparing for this possibility. The vaccines are highly effective. We have enough vaccine for everyone to get vaccinated.
And thanks to the American Rescue Plan and the hardworking American people, we've administered over 325 million vaccinations doses in the past six months. We have the tools to prevent this new wave of COVID from shutting down our businesses, our schools, our society as we saw happen last year.
I've said from the beginning that we will be guided by the science. So here's what the science tells us. On Tuesday, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the CDC announced its new mask recommendation in parts of the country where COVID cases are substantially higher where people didn't get vaccinated, which they define as 50 new cases for every 100,000 people in a week.
The CDC recommends you wear a mask when you're in public and indoors like work or in a grocery store. That's true for both the vaccinated and the unvaccinated. Why? Because even if you've been fully vaccinated and protected from severe illness from COVID-19, you could have the delta variant in your system and spread it to someone who isn't vaccinated. We need to wear masks to protect each other and to stop the rapid spread of this virus as we work to get more people vaccinated.
And I hope all Americans who live in areas with substantial or high case or rates will follow the mask guidance as being laid down by the CDC. I certainly will and I have because this is one of those areas in Washington.
And my decision, my direction, all federal personnel and visitors to federal buildings will have to do the same thing.
As I said from the beginning, a mask is not a political statement. It's about protecting yourself and protecting others. Masking is one defense against the spread of COVID-19.
But make no mistake. Vaccines are the best defense against you getting severely ill from COVID-19. The very best defense, and you want to know how we put this virus behind us? I'll tell you how. We need to get more people vaccinated.
Look, and it's important to understand what vaccines do and what they don't do. Put simply, the vaccines are designed to save lives and prevent severe illness. They're highly effective at both.
A hundred and ninety million Americans have had at least one shot. Of that group, about 90 percent are done now and 10 percent are waiting for the second shot. To those folks who have one shot but not the second, go get the second shot. Even if you're overdue for the second shot, it's not too late. Go get the second shot now. Now.
The bottom line is if you're fully vaccinated, you're highly protected from COVID-19. But I also know that many of you who are vaccinated are concerned about what's called breakthrough cases. Yes, some fully vaccinated people will still test positive, and some will show some symptoms of COVID-19.
That's expected with almost every vaccine there is for other diseases.
But breakthrough cases remain rare and almost all are mild cases. In fact, virtually all hospitalizations and deaths are among the unvaccinated.
I also know many of you are wondering if you need a booster shot to add another layer of protection. As of now, my medical advisers say the answer is no. No American needs a booster now, but if the science tells us there's a need for boosters, then that's something we'll do.
And we have purchased the supply, all the supply we need to be ready if that was called for. Folks, the truth is as more people get vaccinated, we are better protected as a nation to continue re-owning safely and responsibly. We are not fully out of the woods yet because what is happening in America right now is a pandemic, a pandemic of the unvaccinated. Let me say that again, it's a pandemic of the unvaccinated.
There are about 90 million Americans who are eligible to get the shot but haven't gotten it yet. As I just mentioned, nearly all of the cases, hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19 today are from unvaccinated people.
Last months, a study showed that over 99 percent of COVID-19 deaths have been among the unvaccinated, 99 percent. This is an American tragedy. People are dying and will die who don't have to die. If you're out there unvaccinated, you don't have to die. Read the news. You'll see stories about unvaccinated patients in
hospitals. As they're lying in bed dying from COVID-19, they're asking, doc, can I get the vaccine? And the doctors have to say, sorry. It's too late.
Right now, too many people are dying you feel or watching someone they love dying and saying if I just got vaccinated, if I just. It's heartbreaking. And it's complicated even more because it's preventable.
America's divided between the majority of eligible people who are vaccinated and those who are not, and I understand that many of you in the majority are frustrated with the consequences of the failure of the minority to get vaccinated, but I want you to know I'm going to continue to do everything I can to encourage the unvaccinated to get vaccinated. That includes addressing hesitancy and misinformation head on.
For example, I know some of you who are unvaccinated think the development of the vaccine was rushed, therefore, I'm not going to take a chance. As a result, I think it's not safe because it was rushed. I understand,
But let me explain -- our top scientists -- the National Institutes of Health, the NIH and across the country got to work applying decades of research, decades of research, let me repeat that, decades, it had already been done, the research, to develop the COVID-19 vaccine when it hit.
In the last six months, more than 325 million doses of the vaccine have been administered in the United States, and billions of doses administered around the world. The vaccine was developed and authorized under a Republican administration and has been distributed and administered under a Democratic administration.
The vaccines are safe, highly effective. There's nothing political about them. Look at all the people who took a shot at it. They later learned a lot of them had already been vaccinated.
From the start, I have to compliment Republican Senate Minority Mitch McConnell, he hasn't made it political. He's encouraged people to get vaccinated. He's encouraged people to do so and his state's in pretty good state.
Alabama Republican Governor Kay Ivey recently spoke out to encourage vaccination, and even the commentators on Fox who have been belittling us for a long time, some haven't but many have, are arguing get vaccinated.
Look, this is not about red states and blue states. It's literally about life and death. It's about life and death. That's what it's about.
You know, and I know people talk about freedom, but I learned growing up at school and with my parents, with freedom comes responsibility. The decision to be unvaccinated impacts someone else. Unvaccinated people spread the virus. They get sick and fill up our hospitals and that means if someone else has a heart attack or breaks a hip, there may not be a hospital bed for them.
If you're unvaccinated, you put your doctor and nurses at risk the same front line essential workers who put their lives on the line over the past year and have gone through hell. Again, with freedom comes responsibility. So please exercise responsibility judgment. Get vaccinated for yourself, for the people you love, for your country.
I'm being literal when I say this, as I travel the world almost every day a foreign leader calls me asking can I provide his or her country more vaccines. Their people are desperate for vaccines. We're doing everything to answer those calls. We're sending millions of vaccines to people around the world.
But folks, it's an American blessing that we have vaccines for each and every American. We've made it our first and top priority to have available vaccines for every eligible American and that's never going to change as long as I'm here. It's a shame because it's such a shame to squander that blessing.
That's why after six months of extraordinary work and effort, today, I'm laying out additional steps we should be taking to deliver these life saving vaccines to more Americans.
First, we're going to provide more incentives to encourage unvaccinated Americans to get vaccinated. That starts with paid leave to get the shot. We're still hearing that people are unable to get time off from their employer to get vaccinated.
Well, this is unacceptable. For some time now I've said, you should be able to get the shot and still get paid thanks to the American Rescue Plan, the federal government is fully reimbursing any small or medium- sized business that provides workers with paid time off to get vaccinated. Employers, this costs you nothing. If you haven't given employees paid time off, do it now, please.
Today, I'm announcing that we're taking this a step further. The federal government will now reimburse those employers to give their staffs -- who give their staffs time off, not only to get themselves vaccinated but also to get their family members vaccinated. That means employers can get reimbursed if they give parents time off with paid time, paid leave to take their kids or their own parents to get vaccinated.
So I'm calling on all employees across the country to give paid time off to get the shot or to help a family member do so. I promise you it will cost you the employer nothing. You'll be reimbursed.
Secondly, I'm announcing that we'll continue the work with states to encourage unvaccinated people to get vaccinated. In February, a grocery store chain Kroger's offered $100 to their associates if they would get vaccinated, and it worked. Vaccination rates moved up from 50 percent to 75 percent among their employees. States like New Mexico, Ohio, and Colorado are offering similar
incentive programs that have helped increase vaccination rates.
So today I'm calling on all states and local governments to use funding they have received including from the American Rescue Plan to give $100 to anyone who gets fully vaccinated.
I know that paying people get vaccinated might sound unfair to folks who have already gotten vaccinated already, but here's the deal, if incentives help us beat this virus, I believe we should use them. We all benefit if we can get more people vaccinated.
In addition to providing incentives to encourage vaccination, it's time to impose requirements on key groups to make sure they're vaccinated. Excuse me. Just this week we took an important step to protect our veterans. Like many civilian hospital systems are doing, the Department of Veterans Affairs will now require COVID-19 vaccines for doctors and nurses and other health care workers who provide medical care for our veterans. We must do everything possible to protect our veterans from getting COVID when they come to get medical care so richly earned serving their country. We owe them.
Next, since many vaccinations are required for active duty military today, I'm asking the defense department to look into how and when they will add COVID-19 to the list of vaccinations our armed forces must get. Our men and women in uniform will protect this country from grave threats should be protected as much as possible from getting COVID-19. I think this is particularly important because our troops serve in places throughout the world, many where vaccination rates are low and disease is prevalent.
Next, every federal government employee will be asked to attest to their vaccination status. Anyone who does not attest or is not vaccinated will be required to mask no matter where they work, test one or two times a week to see if they've acquired COVID, socially distance, and generally will not be allowed to travel for work. Likewise, today, I'm directing my administration to take steps to apply similar standards to all federal contractors. If you want to do business with the federal government, get your workers vaccinated.
The Chamber of Commerce, representing tens of thousands of American businesses, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Business Roundtable is comprised of the largest and biggest corporations in America. They're all applauding the actions the federal government is taking and urge them to follow suit.
I also commend the National Football League has announced if there are outbreaks among unvaccinated players and personnel, then the teams risk forfeiting games. Sports leagues at every level to take every step they can.
Every day more businesses are implementing their own vaccine mandates. The Justice department has made it clear that it is legal to require COVID-19 vaccines, we all want our lives to get back to normal, and fully vaccinated workplaces will -- will make that happen more quickly and more successfully. We all know that in our gut. With incentives and mandates, we can make
a huge difference and save a lot of lives.
I also want to speak to families with children in school. We can and we must open schools this fall full-time. It's better for our children's mental and emotional wellbeing, and we can't afford another year out of the classroom.
Every school should be open, and we're giving them the tools to be able to do so safely, even in those areas where they have a higher vaccination -- they have a higher rate of COVID. Through the American Rescue Plan, we provided schools billions of dollars to implement safety measures, better ventilation, social distancing and other measures.
In March, when vaccinations were scarce, I prioritized teachers and school workers by utilizing our federal pharmacy program. Almost 90 percent of educators and school staff are now vaccinated. Additionally, the CDC has provided clear guidance on how all schools can safely protect the kids and bring them back to the classroom. Every student wear a mask. It's that simple.
So we funded safety measures at schools. We've vaccinated teachers and staff, and we can mask up our kids for further protection. Once again, there's one more thing we need to do. Get more adolescents, ages 12 and up vaccinated now that they've been cleared.
In the past week, the good news we've seen the average number of 12 to 17-year-olds getting vaccinated increase 22 percent per day. Today, I'm asking school districts to host one last pop-up vaccination clinic over the coming weeks for kids ages 12 and up. We're directing the federal pharmacy program to help make that happen.
Parents, get your children vaccinated. You do it for so many other things right now.
For kids under 12, if and when the vaccines are deemed safe for them, we'll be prepared to get the vaccines administered as quickly and as safely as possible. Look, and as we work to vaccinate more Americans, we're prepared for outbreaks in areas of unvaccinated people.
My administration has made it clear to every governor that more federal resources are available to them. This includes deployment of surge teams composed of experts from the CDC and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA. We're going to continue to provide states with more testing, treatments, protective equipment, personnel, mobile vaccination clinics to stem the surge of the virus among the unvaccinated.
The pictures of hospitals in several states overloaded with patients is unnecessary, avoidable, and tragic. You know, we'll help any health system overloaded and unable to cope with the spike in cases. We're ready to do that. Let me close with this. If you're at home and vaccinated but anxious
or even angry, or if you're at home and unvaccinated, unbothered and unconvinced, let's step back and see where we are. Just remember how we've emerged from a dark winter into a hopeful spring and summer. But really remember just how dark that winter was.
Over 3,600 Americans were dying each and every day and now even with the surge among the unvaccinated, we're down to that 300 Americans a day. Significant. Millions of people are out of work, out of homes, out of hope and going hungry.
Remember those long lines, people in their automobiles waiting for a box of food to be put in their trunk? Experts and pundits said we couldn't get the vaccines, and then if we could get the vaccines, we couldn't get them in people's arms, we couldn't get them vaccinated. They predicted our economy would collapse.
Remember how we stayed focused and how we went to work. In six months, we got 164 million Americans fully vaccinated because we vaccinated so many people, put in place so many safety measures and got economic help to businesses and people most in need our economy is recovering. More than 3 million Americans are back to work since I was sworn in. Faster job growth than any previous administration, any.
We're experiencing the fastest economic growth in nearly four decades -- the best in the world as of now. In fact, today's GDP numbers show that the first half of the year our economy grew faster than any point in nearly 40 years. Our economy grew more in six months than most Wall Street forecasters expected for the entire year before we implemented our plan.
And just yesterday, we announced a bipartisan infrastructure deal that's going to continue this momentum over the long-term by making the most significant investment to rebuild America in nearly a century.
But we still have to face many challenges. We still have a lot of work to do as we readjust to a post-pandemic economy. But we have the right plan. We're coming back. We just have to stay ahead of this virus.
I know this is hard to hear. I know it's frustrating. I know it's exhausting to think we're still in this fight, and I know we hoped this would be a simple straightforward line without problems or new challenges, but that isn't real life. We're coming out of the worst public health crisis in 100 years, the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
As I told you before, I carry a card in my pocket. I hope I have it with me. I carry a card in my pocket with the number of Americans dead from COVID-19. As of today, this morning, the total deaths in the United States were 609,441.
Granted, the death rate per day is way down, it's down to 400 about. That's more deaths than World War I, World War II, Vietnam, 9/11, Iraq, and Afghanistan wars combined.
This is as tough as it gets. And we're Americans. When we get knocked down, we get back up. That's who we are. That's what we do. That's why there's no nation on Earth like us.
And we're prepared like never before. We have the tools to save lives, to keep our economy growing and growing -- and going.
After the past six months, following the science, we know we can dramatically lower the cases in this country. We can do this. We brought our economy back to life and we kept it going. We know we can send our kids back to school. We know we can beat this virus. We can do this. We all just have to do our part.
My fellow Americans, this nation has never failed, and we have come together as the United States of America, so I say to all those who are unvaccinated, please, please get vaccinated.
And the rest of America, this is no time to be despondent or let our guard down. We just need to finish the job with science, with facts, with the truth. And together as Americans, we're going to be able to beat this.
May God bless you all, and may god protect our troops. Thank you.
REPORTER: Mr. President, Mr. President --
REPORTER: Why do vaccinated people still need to mask up?
REPORTER: Mr. President, how long do you think it might be necessary to wear a mask? And at what point do you think people might have to have a booster shot?
BIDEN: I said in my talk, the booster shot is not needed now. It is possible that it will be needed later. I don't know. They don't -- the science hasn't dictated that yet.
And the first part of your question?
REPORTER: How long do you think people might have to wear masks again?
BIDEN: Well, if you notice a lot of places people don't have to wear masks. Let's get that straight. The places where people have gotten vaccinated where we have a high vaccination rate, people do not have to wear masks at all. Like some of you who were with me yesterday when I was up in Lehigh Valley, didn't have to wear masks there.
Don't have to mask if you come home to Delaware with me. I know you love doing that. But you don't have to wear a mask.
The places people are probably going to have to wear masks in those communities where the high rate of unvaccinated stays high, and they don't move. They don't move to getting vaccinated.
But I think you're going to find the patience of businesses and the patience of a lot of other people running thin because the fact is if you had high vaccination rates, we wouldn't be in this spot right now.
REPORTER: Mr. President -- Mr. President, will this set up an American workplace for federal workers and private sector that really is the vaccinated versus the unvaccinated, and is that a pressure you're trying to harness now?
BIDEN: Well, I'm not -- look, what I'm trying to do is keep people safe. I mean that sincerely, so if, in fact, you're unvaccinated, you present a problem to yourself to your family, and to those with whom you work.
Because as pointed out, I was asked a question why would people who have already been vaccinated get it? You've got anywhere from 2 to 3 percent on average the last study done that can still get COVID.
They don't get very sick. They don't get hospitalized, it's not serious, but they can catch it, and the concern is they may be able to pass it on and so, that's all being studied right now. But the important thing is if people are vaccinated, the transmission rate drops through the floor, and that's all we're trying to do.
REPORTER: Mr. President, thank you. Why not push for vaccine mandates in states, private companies, schools, do you want to see those entities pass vaccine mandates?
BIDEN: Well, I'd like to see them continue to move in that direction. That's why I pointed out. I asked the Justice Department to determine whether they're able to do had that legally, and they can. Local communities can do that, local businesses can do that. It's still a question whether the federal government can mandate the whole country. I don't know that yet.
REPORTER: Mr. President, you said earlier this week that we are not headed back towards lockdowns.
But if the science is evolving, how can you be so confident in that? We heard you saying weeks ago that the virus was -- but Dr. Fauci has also indicated that we are heading in the wrong direction.
BIDEN: Well, you're literally correct on everything you said, but it doesn't come to the conclusion you're implying. It is clear that if everybody's vaccinated, the existing vaccines work to prevent deaths, serious illness, hospitalization, okay? So if tomorrow I could wave a wand and every American was vaccinated, then, in fact, we'd be out of the woods.
Now, can something else happen a year from now? Can there be a different virus? Can there be something? It's possible, but I'm talking about COVID and the existing variants that have come forward so far. So it makes a -- it's a simple proposition. If you're vaccinated, you
find yourself in a situation where you are highly unlikely, even if you somehow get the virus, very small percentage do, that you are not going to be hospitalized. You're not going to be on a ventilator, you're not going to be sick, but you could be in a position to possibly spread it to someone who wasn't, if you have it in you.
REPORTER: Mr. President, thank you.
I wanted to ask why not require that people show proof that they're vaccinated? And also, if you could just with the 4 million, how much of an impact do you think this will have? Do you have a projection, sir?
BIDEN: A projection on what?
REPORTER: How many people will get vaccinated by putting in the system?
BIDEN: Now, I'm not going to get in the business of projecting. I -- exactly how many people are likely. All I know is that we go through these periods, and then we run up against a wall, and then something happens where people realize, oh, my Lord this is really a problem and they begin to see things.
Look, the fact that a lot of your friends are now saying get vaccinated who before were saying this is not a problem. This is a democratic thing, with a small D and a capital D. There's a lot changing. People are becoming aware, the more aware they become, then we have these surgeries of people going out and getting vaccinated. And it just keeps building.
I'm sorry --
REPORTER: What about requiring proof, sir?
BIDEN: Well, that is -- there's two ways to do it. And I think you're going to see some institutions doing that, like you're going to fly abroad, you're going to have to have proof you're not just going to be able to say, yeah, I got tested. You got to provide proof.
My guess is if we don't start to make more progress, a lot of businesses and a lot of enterprises are going to require proof for you to be able to participate.
REPORTER: Mr. President --
REPORTER: Mr. President --
BIDEN: In the back, and then I'm going to take off shortly here.
REPORTER: What actions are you going to take to encourage private business to follow this type of model to either require vaccines or require testing or other preventative procedures?
BIDEN: I just did. I'm going to keep at it. I'm going to be talking about it around the country.
REPORTER: Are you going to reach out to private business, meet with them, try and actively encourage them to follow this model?
BIDEN: Well, I have. That's why we have folks from the Chamber of Commerce from the manufacturers, et cetera. So, you know, I am -- am I going to call a meeting of every, you know, business in the country to come to Washington or go -- I have made the case repeatedly. I doubt whether there's a single solitary business that doesn't understand that I think it's smart for them to require testing, require -- and if you can't demonstrate, you can't prove you've been vaccinated, you have to be tested.
REPORTER: Secretary Austin said he was already considering mandating the vaccine after it was fully approved. Would you like to see the mandate go into effect before full approval, and do you think he's open to that?
BIDEN: I know he's open to it, and the question is when is the right time to get the most bang for the buck when you do it? A lot of this is timing. So, I think it's going to happen.
But -- look, the one thing that you all are politely and appropriately referencing is that it's still a temporary approval. So when does the final approval come? It usually takes a lot of -- a lot of work to get there.
I made a commitment I would not tell anyone in the Justice Department who they should prosecute, and I would not tell the health industry that -- the government health entities what they should say and do.