A federally imposed COVID-19 vaccine mandate for employees of mid- to large-sized private businesses formally went into effect Thursday. It is an action President Joe Biden said he would have preferred not to take, but which he said became necessary because “too many people remain unvaccinated for us to get out of this pandemic for good.”
Oklahoma’s seven-member congressional delegation remains uniformly opposed to the mandate. They insist getting the vaccine should be a personal decision and warn that forcing people to do so under threat of continued employment will only exacerbate a national workforce shortage.
The Labor Department rule, first previewed by the president in September, requires workers at businesses with 100 of more employees to either be vaccinated or tested weekly for the virus, which has claimed more than 750,000 lives in the U.S. The White House estimates the rule will impact 84 million workers.
Separately, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is issuing a rule requiring health care workers in facilities that accept Medicare and Medicaid be fully vaccinated. It’s estimated this rule will cover some 17 million Americans.
A mandate for federal workers and contractors to be vaccinated was already in place, but the deadline for compliance – originally December 8 – was pushed back Thursday to align with the deadline for the OSHA and CMS rules: January 4, 2022.
Some Oklahoma Republicans see that as a win.
“I will continue to fight the mandate, but giving more time for businesses to adapt or challenge it is a major victory," said Sen. Jim Inhofe in a statement.
“It’s the first halfway decent decision this administration has had,” said Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK2). “Fortunately, they were smart enough to blink and push it after the holidays, and I believe they’re probably going to blink again and not be able to enforce the mandate because they understand what type of labor shortage is going to happen — mind you, it’s going to take 20% of the labor force out of the market.”
On the contrary, the administration thinks the mandate will be good for jobs and for the economy.
“They not only increase vaccination rates but they help send people back to work – as many as 5 million American workers,” Biden said in a statement. “They make our economy more resilient in the face of COVID and keep our businesses open.”
But members of the Oklahoma delegation said they have constituents who will now purposefully not get vaccinated, for the simple reason that someone told them they had to.
“This is not the United States of America that we all know and love where individuals have personal responsibility and personal freedoms,” said Sen. James Lankford. “We live and die by our own decisions on what we do with our own lives, with our own future, and this president saying, ‘No, you don’t, you’re going to live by my decisions.’ That’s not who we are.”
Mullin said the concept is similar to the one many Democrats preach when it comes to a woman’s choice to carry a pregnancy to term.
“‘It’s my life, it’s my body, I get to make a decision’ -- that’s what they say about killing babies,” said Mullin. “ ‘It’s my body, get out of my body’… Well, the vaccine is my body. too, I get to choose what I put in it.”
Mullin and each member of the Oklahoma delegation has been vaccinated against COVID-19.