With the nation’s top public health officials as its audience, Senate Republicans on Thursday issued complaints about a new comprehensive vaccine mandate for large corporations carried out by the Biden administration.
“I’m just telling you that it’s hard to sell to tell people who had COVID that they’re now under a mandate – a mandate from the federal government – to be vaccinated. I think you have an extremely difficult sale.” Richard Burr, the top Republican in the Senate Health Committee, told the heads of the Biden White House COVID response team, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky and chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci, in a hearing.
The new mandate, announced in September but finalized on Thursday, will apply to nearly 100 million U.S. workers and require them to either be vaccinated or undergo weekly COVID tests. The term will take effect on January 4, after the holidays.
Both Fauci and Walensky supported the mandate, pointing to 745,000 American deaths and thousands more each week, the vast majority of whom are among the unvaccinated.
Burr was one of several Republicans who made the case during the hearing that unvaccinated Americans who had COVID-19 should be exempted from the new mandate because they would now have “natural” immunity to the virus, an argument made by trade organizations that opposes. the mandate.
While studies have shown that people still carry an immune response to the virus after recovery, it is not clear how long that immunity lasts and it does not appear to be as robust as vaccination immunity. One recent CDC study found that people with “natural” immunity through infection were five times more likely to develop COVID-19 compared to people who were fully vaccinated, something Wallensky and Fauci indicated.
However, Burr argued that health care professionals were already suffering from labor shortages and could not afford to lose more people because they refused to comply with warrants. Under the mandate for health care workers, which applies to any place receiving federal funding through Medicare or Medicaid, workers must be vaccinated with no option to do weekly tests instead.
“You’re starting to do this to people, Medicare, Medicaid providers, community health centers, we’re not going to have people to expand,” Burr said, referring to additional responses to states that need more doctors and nurses as COVID cases increase.
He called the decision not to allow “natural” immune qualifiers “confusing.”
“There’s every reason to believe that people can look at this and say, ‘What the hell are you doing? On what do you judge this based on that?’ It’s not ordinary reason and it’s certainly not science. “
Walensky said the data on how long-lasting natural immunity lasts is “more confusing,” but the CDC can track with certainty how long vaccines work, and referenced the recent study showing more infections in people who have had COVID than in those who are vaccinated. .
“CDC recommendations suggest that you have an increasingly robust and robust and known immune response if you are vaccinated after you have previously been infected, and those are our recommendation,” Walensky said.
Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska, also told public health officials she was worried about a lack of work.
“When we talk about vaccine and vaccine hesitation, we need to talk to those who are implementing some of these standards that in my state are causing an extraordinary problem and a problem in our workforce,” Murkowski said.
Both Fauci and Walensky defended the mandates the Biden administration hopes will stifle COVID cases that have disrupted everything from education systems to supply chain and economy.
“We had 745,000 deaths from this disease and we still have about 75,000 cases every day,” Walensky said.
“We know that the most disruptive thing in our workforce is having a COVID outbreak and having workers in that workforce go down with COVID infection, severe illness, and in some cases death. Vaccination as we’ve seen decreases your risk of infection. , decreases your risk of hospitalization and death tenfold even during this delta growth. So it is an absolute public health priority to vaccinate people and continue the important prevention and mitigation strategies including masking to keep them safe, ”she said.
Senator Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican, asked Fauci, “If we have a mandate, will it save lives? More than 100 employees, will their employees get vaccinated or get a weekly test? If that happens, will it save lives and you get an estimate of the number of lives that could be saved? “
Fauci said he does not have a model at hand, but has a “very firm and confident answer” to the first question.
“We know vaccines absolutely save lives. And we know mandates work,” he said.