The high-level conversations highlight how the administration is working to find new and more effective ways to protect Americans living in communities with rising infection rates.
But officials are divided over the merits of issuing new federal guidelines, with some fearing it will be politicized and embolden further Republican attacks. This camp believes that recommending proof of vaccination would raise the specter of “vaccine passports” – an increasingly powerful conservative talking point – and alienate and stigmatize parts of the country where individuals have chosen not to be vaccinated. And they fear the calls to re-impose mask warrants will be unsuccessful.
“It’s political,” said one of the residents. “They think people like [Florida Gov. Ron] DeSantis and the company are just waiting for the White House to announce some sort of vaccine mandate, then they’re going to jump on it for political reasons. “
Some of the medical officials on the White House Covid team who have been pushing for measures like vaccine checks believe they could give a boost to the country’s overdue vaccination effort and, all at the very least, are pressuring state and local authorities to consider reverting strict public health measures that helped slow the spread of Covid-19 earlier in the pandemic.
Participants at Sunday’s meeting said it would be politically easier to ask states and courts to implement strict masking guidelines and social distancing recommendations than to take a public stand on whether to produce the proof that people have been vaccinated, even if that means setting aside previous masking talking points.
The White House declined to comment on the meeting. The Washington Post was the first to report last week that the administration was once again considering recommending that Americans wear masks.
Biden’s health officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discussed for weeks the release of new vaccination guidelines for Americans, including recommending proof of vaccination and reimposing mask warrants. They have tried to put together data on the Delta variant to help support these policy decisions, said a senior administration official with first-hand knowledge of the matter.
“The federal government could play a role without actually being the entity that performs the vaccine verification and I would like the administration to do it more forcefully, saying, not that they are going to do the passports but that they’re going to allow private companies to do it right, ”said Ashish Jha, dean of the school of public health at Brown University.
But officials have avoided overturning the masking guidelines, saying a return to mask mandates could potentially confuse Americans and sow distrust of conservative rural communities. The administration also largely rejected the idea of formally recommending proof of vaccination, fearing political consequences and accusations of discrimination.
“In the group hesitant about vaccination, if they were to sign a form today, because they were told today that you need to be vaccinated today, they would be exempt,” said Michael Osterholm, director from the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University. from Minnesota and an epidemiologist who served on Biden’s coronavirus advisory board during the presidential transition. “We are perhaps our own worst enemy in trying to get this group vaccinated. “
The Department of Veterans Affairs announced Monday that it would impose a vaccine requirement on frontline health workers. Several hospitals and medical associations approved similar policies earlier today.
The vaccination requirement marked a sudden change for an administration that had long ruled out the prospect of a mandates over fears that it would hurt confidence in vaccines and harden opposition.
In a briefing Friday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said it was “not the role of the federal government” to require people to take the photos.
But three days later, and as the number of cases climbed to levels not seen since May, Psaki took on a different tone.
“It is certainly prudent for the federal government to look at all the steps,” she said Monday, shortly before the VA deploys its mandate.
Georges Benjamin, head of the American Public Health Association, said he expects the VA to be the first of several agencies to impose mandates, including the Department of Defense. But he said he didn’t expect the White House to go further by demanding that all federal workers be vaccinated. “Then you clashed with all the governors who said, ‘No, not in my condition,'” he said. “And then the debate is not about how you vaccinate people, but about the policy of it.”
Frontline VA health workers will have eight weeks to be fully immunized. This move was accompanied by a new effort by private sector health groups to urge the vaccination of health workers organized by Ezekiel Emanuel, an ally of Biden and former member of the Covid-19 team who advised the Biden’s transition.
In an interview, Emanuel said he made his support for making “well-known” vaccinations mandatory within the White House – although his work with the health industry on the issue was not coordinated with the administration.
“We did all we could,” he said of Biden vaccination campaign. “What can we do other than a warrant?” “
The private sector the efforts have come together over the past two weeks, and since going public, he said other health organizations have asked to sign.
“When you have 57 healthcare organizations that never agree on anything to move forward, you know you’ve hit something that is common to them,” he said.