In a historic call to arms for the nation's public health, President Joe Biden came down unequivocally on the side of the 175 million Americans who are fully vaccinated—going to bat for them against the roughly one-quarter of Americans who have yet to get a single shot.
"The time for waiting is over," Biden said in the national address from the White House as he unveiled an aggressive plan to compel vaccine holdouts into getting the jab. "This is not about freedom or personal choice. It is about protecting yourself and those around you," he added.
Amid the details of his six-pronged plan to force many Americans into compliance, Biden peppered his speech with reminders of how much the unvaccinated are costing those who have worked to play by the rules in support of the greater good.
"We're going to protect vaccinated coworkers from unvaccinated coworkers," he said, announcing an order requiring all employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their workforce is either fully vaccinated or getting weekly tests before coming to work.
At another point in the speech, Biden channeled the rage of the silent majority who have followed the science and adhered to guidelines only to watch the delta variant wreak havoc by burning through unvaccinated regions of the country.
"My message to unvaccinated Americans is this: What more is there to wait for? What more do you need to see? We've made vaccinations free, safe and convenient," he said. "We've been patient, but our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us."
Biden also promised to use his authority to get recalcitrant GOP governors "out of the way."
"Right now, local school officials are trying to keep children safe in a pandemic while their governor picks a fight with them and even threatens their salaries or their jobs," Biden said, taking obvious aim at Republican governors like Florida's Ron DeSantis and Texas' Greg Abbott, among others. "Any teacher or school official whose pay is withheld for doing the right thing — we will have that pay restored by the federal government 100 percent."
Biden's six-pronged "Path out of the Pandemic" included the following elements: vaccinating the unvaccinated, further protecting the vaccinated, keeping schools open safely, increasing testing and requiring masking, protecting our economic recovery, and improving care for those with COVID-19.
Biden's plan to force the unvaccinated off the sidelines included his new mandate for all employers with 100 or more employees along with more stringent, no opt-out vaccination requirements for both federal workers and federal contractors.
"If you want to work with the federal government—do business with us—get vaccinated. If you want to do business with the federal government, vaccinate your workforce," Biden explained.
Biden also ordered that all 17 million health care workers at health care facilities participating in Medicare and Medicaid get vaccinated.
In addition, Biden called on large entertainment venues to require proof of vaccination or testing for entry.
Finally, Biden implored all pediatricians and general practitioners to double back with their patients and make one final push to get them vaccinated.
"I'm asking each of you to reach out to your unvaccinated patients over the next two weeks and make a personal appeal to them to get the shot," Biden said, noting they might be the "one person" who could change someone's mind.
To facilitate safe in-person learning, Biden said he would require vaccinations among all staff of Head Start Programs, Department of Defense Schools, and the Bureau of Indian Education-Operated Schools. The order will cover hundreds of thousands of federally funded educators.
He also called on all governors to adopt vaccine requirements for every school employee. Certainly, most Republican governors will ignore Biden's call to ensure safety for teachers, kids, and their parents, but now every one of those GOP governors will be forced to explicitly reject the efforts of a U.S. president to keep children in school, safe, and help turn the corner on the pandemic.
Biden put new emphasis on testing, announcing a deal with private companies Amazon, Walmart, and Kroger to sell rapid test kits at cost for the next three months. He's also invoking the Defense Production Act in order to dramatically increase the availability of at-home tests, and he said free testing would be available at 10,000 pharmacies across the country.
Overall, the plan was rich in detail, had plenty of teeth, and was sweeping in size and scope. The forcefulness of the effort will give any employer, school board, business owner, or health care facility looking for an excuse to require vaccinations the cover to do so.
But perhaps most importantly, Biden dedicated himself and his administration to the cause of protecting Americans from the fringes of society by putting real political skin in the game. After months of asking and sometimes even begging people to do what any reasonable person would do and get vaccinated, Biden brought the hammer. Right-wing media and GOP lawmakers looking to burnish their personal freedoms cred will be lit—screaming from the rooftops about government overreach and constitutional transgressions.
Staring into that abyss, Biden picked a side and went big and bold. It was both the right thing to do and, happily, the politically smart thing to do. If the pandemic persists and the economy doesn't recover by next year, at least he will have swung for the fences. But if the pandemic wanes and the economy finds its groove, Biden can certainly claim credit for turning the trajectory around while Republicans did nothing but undermine him and the health of the nation.