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More than 90% of federal workers have had a shot by the COVID-19 vaccine deadline

President Biden announced a mandate for federal workers to get vaccinated at the White House on Sept. 9.
President Biden announced a mandate for federal workers to get vaccinated at the White House on Sept. 9.

Updated November 22, 2021 at 10:12 AM ET

More than 90% of federal employees will have had at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose by the end of Monday, the deadline for the largest workforce in the country to get vaccinated under a mandate imposed by President Biden in September.

The vast majority of the 3.5 million employees covered by the mandate have been fully vaccinated, said a senior administration official who declined to be identified ahead of the deadline. An additional 5% of workers have requested or received an exception or an extension, the official said.

That's ahead of the pace among all U.S. adults, 71% of whom are fully vaccinated.

Federal workers will have all day Monday to turn in their proof of vaccination. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Friday that experience with other similar mandates in the private sector indicates there could be a last-minute rush to meet the requirements and submit paperwork.

The small percentage of federal employees who don't comply with the mandate won't face immediate dismissal. Agencies will continue processing documentation and considering exemptions, including for documented medical necessity. There will be education and counseling for employees who haven't complied, with the ongoing goal of getting yet more federal workers fully vaccinated.

For months the White House resisted vaccine mandates out of concern over backlash, but with the delta variant causing a surge in cases and the pace of vaccinations plateauing, Biden signed orders requiring all civilian federal workers and employees of federal contractors to provide proof of vaccination. A similar requirement was instituted for members of the military and people working in nursing homes, hospitals and doctor's offices.

Although the CDC opened up booster shots to all adults on Friday, for now, the requirement is just for a single dose of the J&J vaccine or two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines. That could change if the CDC updates its definition of fully vaccinated to include boosters.

Psaki said the administration isn't expecting any operational disruptions from people choosing not to be vaccinated.

The White House Office of Management and Budget plans to release data on Wednesday showing how many employees in each department and agency have met the requirements of the vaccine mandate.

Heading into a busy travel week, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said his agency is well on its way to a nearly fully vaccinated workforce.

"We've seen numbers approaching 99% of people have gotten in their information, per the requirements," Buttigieg said Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press. "Either they're...vaccinated, or they're in the process of it, or they've put in a request for an exemption."

The largest federal employee union AFGE requested earlier this month that the Biden administration align the vaccination deadline for federal workers with the January deadline for employees of federal contractors, arguing it would be bad for morale for employees to face disciplinary action over the holidays. The White House didn't move either deadline.

But in congressional testimony, AFGE president Everett Kelley pointed to avoiding a government shutdown as "the single most important thing Congress can do to ensure a turbulence-free season."

Government funding is set to run out Dec. 3 unless Congress passes another funding measure.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Tamara Keith
Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. In that time, she has chronicled the final years of the Obama administration, covered Hillary Clinton's failed bid for president from start to finish and thrown herself into documenting the Trump administration, from policy made by tweet to the president's COVID diagnosis and the insurrection. In the final year of the Trump administration and the first year of the Biden administration, she focused her reporting on the White House response to the COVID-19 pandemic, breaking news about global vaccine sharing and plans for distribution of vaccines to children under 12.