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Biden administration won't take action against unvaccinated federal workers until next year

Last Monday was the deadline for workers to get vaccinated or face suspension or firing.
A pharmacy owner prepares the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine at Flintridge Pharmacy on Nov. 16, 2021 in La Canada Flintridge, Calif.
A pharmacy owner prepares a shot of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine at Flintridge Pharmacy in La Canada Flintridge, Calif., on Nov. 16.Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — Federal workers will not be punished for failing to comply with President Joe Biden's vaccination mandate until next year, the White House announced Monday.

The deadline for federal workers to get vaccinated or face suspension or firing was Nov. 22. The White House said 96.5 percent of the 3.5 million-employee federal workforce, the country's largest, has already complied.

A spokesperson for the Office of Management and Budget said Monday that the deadline was “not a cliff and that our goal is to protect workers, not penalize anyone.”

“That's why we've encouraged agencies to continue the education and counseling period in December for the small number of employees not already in compliance and delay most suspensions and removals until the new year,” the spokesperson said. “We're seeing strong increase in compliance and believe this is the best approach to vaccinate more employees."

Federal employees are allowed to request medical or religious exemptions.

Biden had given federal workers the choice of undergoing regular testing instead of getting vaccinated, but he said in September that opting out of testing would no longer be an option. Federal contractors must meet a separate vaccination requirement.

Biden also established a series of vaccination requirements to pressure the unvaccinated to get their shots, including a requirement that all companies with at least 100 workers require their employees to get vaccinated or tested regularly. The requirement has been blocked temporarily in the courts.

Biden spoke Monday morning from the White House about the new omicron variant of the coronavirus and the potential threat it poses to the U.S. He said the variant was "cause for concern, not a cause for panic," and urged unvaccinated people to get their first shots and for those who are vaccinated to get booster shots.