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Coronavirus Roundup: A November 22 Deadline for Feds to Get Vaccinated; Booster Shot ...

Coronavirus Roundup: A November 22 Deadline for Feds to Get Vaccinated; Booster Shot ...

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November 22 is the deadline for federal employees to get fully vaccinated under President Biden’s new mandate, said an update from the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force released on Monday. Also, “employees may not be credited with administrative leave for time spent getting a vaccination. If, due to unforeseen circumstances, the employee is unable to obtain the vaccine during basic tour of duty hours the normal overtime hours of work rules apply,” said the update. “Prior to being contractually required to be vaccinated, onsite contractor employees who are not fully vaccinated and are not part of an agency testing program must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test from no later than the previous three days prior to entry to a federal building.” Agencies are no longer required to establish testing programs, but they still may do so. Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed. 

August was the deadliest month for the military related to the coronavirus, Federal News Network reported on Monday. “Eleven military service members died of COVID-19 last month, making it by far the most fatal 31 days since the pandemic started,” said the report. “None of the service members were fully vaccinated from the virus. Before August, the most troops to die from the disease in a month was last November, when four service members passed away.” Overall, 43 service members have died from the coronavirus. 

Senior White House and Food and Drug Administration officials have been clashing with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials over booster shots, Politico reported on Monday. Over the last month White House and FDA officials have “accused CDC of withholding critical data needed to develop the booster shot plan—delaying work on the next step of President Joe Biden’s vaccination campaign and making it more difficult to set clear expectations for the public,” said the report. 

Also, “in a sign that even the CDC director herself recognizes the agency has repeatedly fallen short on messaging, multiple people with knowledge of the matter said [Dr. Rochelle] Walensky has recently weighed bringing on new communications staff,” Politico reported. “The agency's main spokespeople are career employees who predate Walensky's arrival in January.”

A research paper published in the medical journal The Lancet on Monday argues that current science does not support the need for a booster shot for the general population. Two of the authors are FDA officials who recently announced they are stepping down in the fall, following reports of disagreements over booster shots. “The message that boosting might soon be needed, if not justified by robust data and analysis, could adversely affect confidence in vaccines and undermine messaging about the value of primary vaccination,” said the article. “Public health authorities should also carefully consider the consequences for primary vaccination campaigns of endorsing boosters only for selected vaccines. Booster programmes that affect some but not all vaccinees may be difficult to implement.”

Therefore, recommendations should be based on “complete data about all vaccines available in a country, to consider the logistics of vaccination, and to develop clear public health messaging before boosting is widely recommended.” 

Top Republicans are investigating potential politicization of the messaging over the need for vaccine booster shots. “Without evidence and data, President Biden announced that booster doses of the mRNA vaccines would be available for Americans starting September 20, 2021,” wrote Reps. Steve Scalise, R-La., Republican whip and ranking member of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, and James Comer, R-Ky., ranking member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, to the acting FDA commissioner on Tuesday. 

“Top scientists and researchers were stunned by this decision—particularly because the CDC and the FDA had not yet conducted their independent review of the data,” they continued. “The political manipulation and pressure to interfere with the science by President Biden’s White House reportedly contributed to the decision of two top career scientists, Marion Gruber and Phil Krause, who were key in the vaccine process, to leave the FDA.” The lawmakers asked for various documents and pieces of information by September 28. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told theSkimm last week he supports a vaccine mandate to fly. “It’s on the table; we haven’t decided yet,” said Fauci. “But if the president said, ‘You know, let’s go ahead and do it,’ I would be supportive of it.” Fauci is also President Biden’s chief medical advisor. 

The union that represents Federal Bureau of Prisons employees said in a statement on Friday its position has not changed on the idea of a vaccine mandate, which is that employees’ ‘freedom to decide to accept a vaccine, or decline a vaccine, is protected by the Constitution and remains a personal choice,” as BOP Director Michael Carvajal said during a hearing in March. “We are actively pursuing the legal landscape and any and all options that have the potential to protect our members,” said the National Council of Prison Locals 33, a division of the American Federation of Government Employees. “By its own admission, the CDC has revealed that the vaccines available do not prevent a person from contracting COVID-19 nor does it stop a person from transmitting it to others…. This is the same CDC decision makers that left the dedicated men and women of the Bureau of Prisons to fend for themselves during the height of the pandemic.”

Help us understand the situation better. Are you a federal employee, contractor or military member with information, concerns, etc. about how your agency is handling the coronavirus? Email us at newstips@govexec.com

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