Federal employee vaccine mandate deadline arrives, along with confusion for Florida workers

More than 90% of federal workers received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by Monday's deadline set by President Joe Biden.

Biden announced in September that more than 3.5 million federal workers were required to undergo vaccination, with no option to get regularly tested instead, unless they secured an approved medical or religious exemption. A U.S. official said the vast majority of federal workers are fully vaccinated, and that a smaller number have pending or approved exceptions to the mandate.

That requirement led to a much higher vaccination rate than the general population, which is just under 60%.

In all, more than 95% of federal workers are in compliance with the Biden mandate, the official said, either by being vaccinated or having requested an exemption.

The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the statistics because the official wasn't authorized to speak on the record before their official release later Monday.

The deadline is a major test of Biden’s push to compel people across the country to get vaccinated, as his administration has emphasized that vaccination is the nation's surest way out from the pandemic. Beyond the federal worker rule, his administration is looking to compel large businesses to institute vaccinate-or-testing requirements that would cover more than 84 million workers, though plans for January enforcement have been on hold pending litigation.

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There was considerable concern over whether federal employees would follow the mandate, particularly in law enforcement and intelligence agencies where there was vocal resistance, and among federal workers involved in the travel sector heading into the busy holiday travel season.

Tampa employment lawyer Yvette Everhart has heard all the questions: "Do I have enough for a religious accommodation? Do I have enough for a medical accommodation?"

And now curious employees are waiting on a judge.

In one corner, the Biden administration and OSHA, who says companies with over a hundred workers must be vaccinated.

In the other corner is the governor of Florida, who has gone to court.

"We are kind of at our employer's mercy here in Florida meaning that most of us are employed at will," said Everhart. "Maybe employees could ask for extensions?"

Citing the interest of workplace safety, the head of the federal government, President Biden, gave until Monday for 3.5 million workers to either be vaccinated or get a religious exemption.

Those who don't could begin to see penalties.

"Those whose exemptions are denied, are more likely than not to be furloughed, and or suspended without pay," said Jeff Swartz of WMU Law School's Tampa Bay campus. "They will not be fired."

One another federal rule the state has challenged -- a requirement that health care workers be vaccinated or their facilities lose funding -- a judge ruled this weekend that Florida had not shown irreparable harm was done

"The supremacy clause says federal statute takes precedence over any state statutes," said Cooley. "Since the rule carries the weight of statute, if it's upheld, there's nothing they can do about it."

People are seen at a COVID-19 mobile vaccination site in Orlando. (Photo by Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The White House says they don’t anticipate any federal disruptions from the mandate. At the Federal Aviation Administration, 99% of employees are in compliance with Biden’s order, at the Transportation Security Administration, 93% are in compliance, and 98% of Customs and Border Protection workers are in compliance.

The official said that on Wednesday the Office of Management and Budget would release a breakdown of agency compliance rates.

According to the official, nearly 25% of the Internal Revenue Service’s employees started getting vaccinated after Biden’s announcement, and 98% of its employees are now in compliance with the requirement.

Just about two weeks ago, several intelligence agencies had at least 20% of their workforce unvaccinated as of late October, said U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart, a Utah Republican who is a member of the House Intelligence Committee. Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association President Larry Cosme said around the same time that there are about 31,000 members from 65 federal law enforcement agencies in the association and he estimated 60% of them have been vaccinated.

The White House is now aiming to use the federal vaccination mandate as a model for private businesses to implement their own mandates even before litigation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's is resolved.

Since Biden announced the first federal mandates earlier this summer, the number of unvaccinated Americans aged 12 and over has dropped from about 100 million to under 60 million. Health officials emphasize that the overwhelming majority of instances of serious illness and death from COVID-19 now occur among those who haven't received a vaccine.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.