President Biden has issued the anticipated Executive Order formally rescinding the COVID vaccine mandate for federal employees and contractors.
The White House had announced previously that the federal employee vaccine mandate would be ending at the end of the day on May 11, 2023 in conjunction with the end of the COVID-19 emergency declaration.
The Biden administration also announced at the same time that an Executive Order would be forthcoming which formally ended the vaccine mandate. With the issuance of the Executive Order, the COVID vaccine mandate for federal employees will end on May 12, 2023 at 12:01 AM EST.
Biden said in a statement issued on February 10, 2023 that he planned to end the COVID national emergency on May 11, 2023:
Today [February 10, 2023], we are in a different phase of the response to that pandemic than we were in March of 2020, and my Administration is planning for an end to the national emergency, but an orderly transition is critical to the health and safety of the Nation. For this reason, the national emergency declared on March 13, 2020, and beginning March 1, 2020, must continue in effect beyond March 1, 2023. Therefore, in accordance with section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1622(d)), I am continuing the national emergency declared in Proclamation 9994 concerning the COVID-19 pandemic. I anticipate terminating the national emergency concerning the COVID-19 pandemic on May 11, 2023.
The timing of the end of the vaccine mandate is based on this previously planned end of the national emergency declaration.
According to the Biden administration, vaccine mandates will remain in place for many federal employees at the National Institutes of Health, Indian Health Service and Department of Veterans Affairs while those agencies review their own requirements going forward. These agencies implemented their own vaccination requirements for healthcare staff and others separate from the mandate issued by Biden.
The military has ended its COVID vaccine mandate for service members. That was rescinded as part of the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act.
At the same time the Executive Order was issued revoking the COVID vaccine mandate for federal employees, Biden also issued an Executive Order revoking the COVID vaccination requirement for air travel.
Controversy of the Federal Employee Vaccine Mandate
From the moment it was issued, the COVID vaccine mandate was a highly controversial issue. Articles posted on FedSmith generated hundreds of comments with strong opinions on both sides of the issue. Even as the pandemic has dissipated, it continues to remain an emotionally charged issue.
Federal employees were given until November 22, 2021 to get vaccinated or faced disciplinary actions including possibly being fired. The COVID mandate also applied to teleworking federal employees.
Legal battles ensued, and a court eventually issued an injunction blocking enforcement of the mandate. That was still in effect when the Executive Order terminating the mandate was issued.
Even after the injunction was issued, the Biden administration continued to fight the ruling in court and had some success on appeal of the decision.
Presumably, all enforcement efforts by the administration will now cease. The Safer Federal Workforce Task Force will be issuing updated guidance for agencies on how to proceed with the new Executive Order in place.
Executive Order on Moving Beyond COVID-19 Vaccination Requirements for Federal Workers
By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, it is hereby ordered as follows:
Section 1. Policy. In 2021, based on the best available data and guidance from our public health experts, I issued Executive Order 14043 of September 9, 2021 (Requiring Coronavirus Disease 2019 Vaccination for Federal Employees), to direct executive departments and agencies (agencies) to require coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccination for their employees, and Executive Order 14042 of September 9, 2021 (Ensuring Adequate COVID Safety Protocols for Federal Contractors), to ensure that Federal contractors and subcontractors have adequate COVID-19 safety protocols. I issued those orders at a time when the highly contagious B.1.617.2 (Delta) variant was the predominant variant of the virus in the United States and had led to a rapid rise in cases and hospitalizations. Those orders were necessary to protect the health and safety of critical workforces serving the American people and to advance the efficiency of Government services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Following issuance of those orders, my Administration successfully implemented a vaccination requirement for the Federal Government, the largest employer in the Nation, achieving a 98 percent compliance rate (reflecting employees who had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine or had a pending or approved exemption or extension request) by January 2022. More broadly, my Administration has effectively implemented the largest adult vaccination program in the history of the United States, with over 270 million Americans receiving at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Following this important work, along with continued critical investments in tests and therapeutics that are protecting against hospitalization and death, we are no longer in the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, and my Administration has begun the process of ending COVID-19 emergency declarations. Our public health experts have issued guidance that allows individuals to understand mitigation measures to protect themselves and those around them. Our healthcare system and public health resources throughout the country are now better able to respond to any potential surge of COVID-19 cases without significantly affecting access to resources or care. Since September 2021, COVID-19 deaths have declined by 93 percent, and new COVID-19 hospitalizations have declined by 86 percent. Considering this progress, and based on the latest guidance from our public health experts, we no longer need a Government-wide vaccination requirement for Federal employees or federally specified safety protocols for Federal contractors. Vaccination remains an important tool to protect individuals from serious illness, but we are now able to move beyond these Federal requirements.
Sec. 2. Revocation of Vaccination Requirements. Executive Order 14042 and Executive Order 14043 are revoked. Agency policies adopted to implement Executive Order 14042 or Executive Order 14043, to the extent such policies are premised on those orders, no longer may be enforced and shall be rescinded consistent with applicable law.
Sec. 3. Effective Date. This order is effective at 12:01 a.m. eastern daylight time on May 12, 2023.
Sec. 4. General Provisions. (a) Nothing in this order shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:
(i) the authority granted by law to an executive department or agency, or the head thereof; or
(ii) the functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.
(b) This order shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.
(c) This order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.
JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR.
THE WHITE HOUSE,
May 9, 2023.