Ninety-two percent of federal employees and military personnel have received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine while nearly 5% more have asked for exemptions on religious or medical grounds, the White House said Wednesday.
Among civil servants, the vaccination percentages range from 86.1% at the Agriculture Department to 97.8% at the Agency for International Development.
Figures from the Office of Management and Budget form the most complete accounting to date of compliance with a requirement that federal employees be fully vaccinated as of Nov. 22. Deadlines for uniformed military personnel vary by service.
Although the vaccination mandates issued by President Joe Biden in September defined “fully vaccinated” as at least two weeks beyond the sole or second shot, depending on the vaccine, the data released Wednesday characterize employees as vaccinated if they have received at least one dose.
Those requesting an exemption also are deemed in compliance with the mandate, as the government decides on their requests. The remaining 3% have not shown they are vaccinated, nor have they asked for an exemption.
“This week’s deadline wasn’t an end point. For those employees who are not yet in compliance, agencies are beginning a period of education and counseling, followed by additional enforcement steps, consistent with guidance from the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force and the Office of Personnel Management,” the announcement said.
The recommended sequence for those refusing vaccines – unless they have asked for an exemption – is a week of counseling about them and the potential career consequences of not complying with the mandate, then a possible unpaid suspension of under two weeks. Only after that would they face being fired.
“At any point, if an employee gets their first shot or submits an exemption request, agencies will pause further enforcement to give the employee a reasonable amount of time to become fully vaccinated or to process the exemption request,” Wednesday’s announcement said.
At least one large department, Veterans Affairs, has started the disciplinary sequence for some employees. The VA is ahead of other agencies because it required vaccinations for its medical employees more than a month before Biden issued the wider directive for federal workers.
Veterans Secretary Denis McDonough said last week that even with the process underway, he was unaware of any decisions to fire employees and said the disciplinary process could “stretch out as much as three months, start to finish.”
The process of firing a federal worker typically takes at least a month, since employees have a right to respond and agencies must consider those replies before taking final actions. During that time employees are to keep working, subject to tighter distancing and mask-wearing standards and regular testing when in the workplace.
Federal employees who have pending requests for exemptions are to follow those safety procedures, which also would apply if their request is granted. If the request is denied, the disciplinary process would begin.
The numbers released Wednesday include some 2.2 million federal employees plus uniformed armed forces personnel, some 3.5 million in all. The U.S. Postal Service and its 600,000-plus employees aren’t subject to the mandate; a separate mandate for companies with more than 100 employees – which currently is on hold due to a court challenge – would apply to postal workers.
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