Biden administration officially withdraws Covid vaccine rule for US businesses

Rule would have affected 80 million workers

Carol Salas receives a dose of the Covid-19 vaccine at a Los Angeles vaccination clinic in California. AP
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US President Joe Biden's administration has officially withdrawn a rule that would have required workers at big companies to be vaccinated or face regular Covid-19 tests.

Despite the decision, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) “continues to strongly encourage the vaccination of workers against the continuing dangers posed by Covid-19 in the workplace”, a notice released on Tuesday said.

In early November, OSHA announced a vaccine-or-test mandate for companies with at least 100 employees. The rule — which would have affected more than 80 million workers — was originally set to go into effect on January 4.

But numerous states and business groups challenged the rule in court, and on January 13, the Supreme Court halted the plan. With a 6-3 ruling, the court’s conservative majority concluded that OSHA had overstepped its authority.

“OSHA has never before imposed such a mandate. Nor has Congress,″ the court’s majority wrote. “Indeed, although Congress has enacted significant legislation addressing the Covid-19 pandemic, it has declined to enact any measure similar to what OSHA has promulgated here.”

The justices left in place a vaccine mandate for healthcare providers who receive federal Medicare or Medicaid funding, a measure that affects 10.4 million workers.

The rules sparked legal challenges by conservative organisations, Republicans and some business groups.

Covid-19 has killed more than 850,000 people in the US and the outbreak continues to weigh on the country's economy.

Mr Biden unveiled in September a series of regulations aimed at increasing the US adult vaccination rate, which currently stands at about 74 per cent, government data show — among the lowest in the developed world.

OSHA indicated that the rule could return in some form. While it is no longer an enforceable standard, it remains a proposed rule, OSHA said. For now, the agency said it will prioritise the healthcare worker mandate.

David Michaels, an epidemiologist and former OSHA administrator who now teaches at George Washington University, said the agency could consider a new rule that would include other measures designed to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in workplaces, such as requiring face masks, distancing and better ventilation systems.

News agencies contributed to this report

Updated: January 25, 2022, 10:56 PM