Just over nine out of ten federal employees have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by the required deadline, the Biden administration announced Wednesday when releasing agency-by-agency vaccination rates. Those rates were as high as 97.8% at the Agency for International Development. Workers at the Agriculture Department had the lowest rate: 86.1%
Federal employees had until the end of Monday to get vaccinated or request a medical or religious exemption. Unlike a rule the Biden administration wants to impose on private employers, federal workers are not allowed to opt-out of the vaccine requirement if they agree to weekly testing.
Workers who are not in the process of getting vaccinated or seeking an exemption will begin a "period of education and counseling, followed by additional enforcement steps," according to the White House.
The administration did not disclose how many workers have requested medical or religious exemptions and how many have received them.
At the Veterans Affairs Department, for example, while 98% of employees have responded in some way to the mandate, about 12% are not vaccinated.
That’s despite the fact that most VA employees had to meet an earlier vaccination deadline imposed on the agencies’ health care workers. Those employees were to be vaccinated by Oct. 8 or submit by Oct. 18 documentation to support an exemption request.
The agency has not responded to USA TODAY’s request for the number of health care workers or have asked for exemptions and the number that have received them.
On Wednesday, the White House emphasized that 92% of all federal workers have gotten at least one shot and 96.5% have either gotten a shot or have a pending or approved exception request.
That "compliance rate" of a shot or an exemption request was 99% or more at several agencies: Office of Personnel Management (99%); Transportation Department (99.6%); Commerce Department (99.4%); Agency for International Development (99.1%); Small Business Administration (99.1%).
The agencies with compliance rates below 96% are: Agriculture Department (95.6%); National Aeronautics and Space Administration (95.6%); Environmental Protection Agency (95.3%); Homeland Security Department (95.1%); Social Security Administration (95%); and the Interior Department (94.7%).
Besides the Agriculture Department, other agencies with vaccination rates below 90% were: Homeland Security Department (88.9%); Justice Department (89.8%); Interior Department (88.3%); Veterans Affairs (87.8%); and the Social Security Administration (87.7%).
Separately, the White House announced Monday that 99% of those working in the executive office of the president have been vaccinated.
The administration said the vaccination mandate is being enforced without disruptions to government services.
Biden announced the mandate for federal employees in September as part of his administration’s strategy to deal with the coronavirus pandemic and boost vaccination rates across the country.
Biden ordered that federal workers and employees of government contractors must be vaccinated. Government contractors have until Jan. 4 to comply. Biden also ordered private employers with 100 or more workers to ensure that their workforce is entirely vaccinated by Jan. 4 or face weekly COVID testing.
A federal appeals court put the vaccine requirement for private employers on hold two weeks ago after leadership in several conservative states as well as businesses sued. The case is likely headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
On Tuesday, the Biden administration asked the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to lift the stay "as soon as possible."
Even if the court says the requirement can not go forward while litigation proceeds, the administration wants the stay adjusted so the rule can still pre-empt state and local bans on vaccination, testing or mask mandates. That would allow businesses to voluntarily impose requirements in the interim.
Since September, more than a dozen GOP-controlled legislatures have debated bills that would undermine vaccine mandates, according to Stateline.
The vaccine order for federal employees applies to all executive branch workers and employees of federal contractors. The order covers about 90% of roughly 4 million federal workers but does not apply to non-executive branch employees such as members of Congress or judicial employees.
In addition, the order covers federal departments and agencies that have already started to implement vaccination mandates: the military and other service members under the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Indian Health Service and the National Institutes of Health.
State and local government workers in 26 states, including teachers and school staff, also will be covered by the Biden vaccine rules if the courts uphold them. That includes workers in some states that have banned vaccination requirements for public employees, setting up another clash between GOP-led states and the Democratic administration.