President Joe Biden on Wednesday touted the anticipated milestone of the United States administering 200 million coronavirus vaccine shots since he took office and urged businesses to give their employees paid time off to get vaccinated.
As a part of that call for time off to get vaccinated, Biden announced a new tax credit to fully offset the cost for small businesses and nonprofits providing paid leave for employees to get vaccinated.
“As we move into the vaccination campaign focused on working age adults, one concern I’ve heard from so many Americans is that they can’t afford to take the time off to get vaccinated or lose a day’s work because they are feeling slightly under the weather after their shot,” Biden said in remarks Wednesday afternoon.
He added, “I’m calling on every employer, large and small, in every state to give employees the time off they need — with pay — to get vaccinated, and any time they need — with pay — to recover if they’re feeling under the weather after the shot. No working American should lose a single dollar from their paycheck because they chose to fulfill their patriotic duty of getting vaccinated.”
Biden also declared a new phase of Covid vaccination efforts in the US, urging young people to now get their shots.
“To put it simply, if you’ve been waiting for your turn, wait no longer. Now’s the time for everyone over 16 years of age to get vaccinated,” Biden said.
The President said that “too many younger Americans may still think they don’t need to get vaccinated,” and explained that one reason for them to get the vaccine “is to keep you from getting very sick or dying.” Another reason was “to protect your community” and vulnerable family members.
He also underscored that the country is still on track to meet his goal of having small gatherings on the Fourth of July as long as Americans remain vigilant and continue to get vaccinated.
“We all need to mask up until the number of cases go down, til everyone has a chance to get their shot. To Americans 16 years and older: It’s your turn now. Now. So go get your vaccine before the end of May. We can do this. And we’ll do this as long as we don’t let up,” Biden said.
With more than half of all US adults now at least partially vaccinated, Biden is looking for ways to encourage the rest of the population to get vaccinated and the White House views working adults as the “next big opportunity,” an administration official said prior to the announcement. Public polling indicates people are more likely to get vaccinated if it is easier for them to do so and if employers offer incentives.
“The President believes that no one should have to lose a single dollar from their paycheck because they got vaccinated,” the official said.
The official said: “By providing paid time off for employees to get vaccinated, employers will not only be investing in their workforce, they’ll be investing in a safer workplace.”
The tax credit, which was authorized as part of the American Rescue Plan, would allow small- and medium-sized businesses to get reimbursed for any vaccine-related paid time off they provide, up to $500 per day per employee, according to a senior administration official. The tax credit applies to paid time off to get vaccinated and to recover from any side effects of the vaccine, which can include flu-like symptoms. It will be offered between April 1 and September 30 and will apply to nearly half of all private sector employees in America, the officials said.
One official cited a February survey from the Society for Human Resource Management that found that nearly a quarter of employees who did not plan to get vaccinated would if their employer offered financial incentives or paid time off.
The tax credit stems from the first coronavirus relief package passed in March 2020, which was subsequently expanded in the December coronavirus relief bill and again under the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill this year, known as the American Rescue Plan.
The tax credit will enable these employers to claim up to $17,110 for 14 weeks of paid leave for each employee to get vaccinated, take time off if they have Covid-19 symptoms and are getting tested for Covid-19, are quarantining or isolating, or have to care for a child whose school is closed or child care provider closed because of the pandemic.
The official said that there is less need for the tax credit for larger employers and many of them have already offered incentives for employees to get vaccinated.
The White House views this, in the words of one administration official, as a “no-brainer” for smaller companies — the credits are there, it’s not a hassle to apply for them and, most importantly from the administration’s view, vaccinated employees are a huge component of any business returning to normal function.
It’s all part of a big ongoing push across the administration to line business up with their vaccination goals. Officials also pointed to ongoing efforts from large companies to help incentivize vaccination and one official said there is “near constant communication” across the business community to try and ensure companies are doing all they can to prod their employees towards getting vaccinated.
The IRS will publish instructions Wednesday afternoon to help businesses access the tax credit.
The push to incentivize Americans to get vaccinated against the coronavirus follows a recent report from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington that warned that declining vaccine confidence combined with eased restrictions could give the virus the opportunity to surge again.
But ahead of the President’s announcement, White House press secretary Jen Psaki dismissed reports that Covid-19 vaccination rates are plateauing.
“(W)e’ve actually seen a decrease in hesitancy and increase in confidence among many communities,” Psaki said during a news briefing on Wednesday.
Psaki also said the administration’s focus is on barriers to vaccine access.
“What the announcement today was intended to do is address one of those barriers to access, which is people, not through a political prism, but people, many people who have not yet been vaccinated are concerned. They can’t take a day off of work. They don’t have additional paid leave. And so we’re trying to address that barrier, reduce that barrier as a one that is preventing access,” she said.
Two hundred million shots is double the original goal Biden had set out to meet within his first 100 days in office. The US cleared 100 million shots in arms with weeks to spare.
More than 213 million Covid-19 vaccines have been administered in the US since December — before Biden took office — and about 133 million people have received at least one dose as of Wednesday morning, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Wednesday’s announcement from the President focused solely on the number of shots administered since January 20, when he took office. By CNN’s count, the US has administered about 196 million shots during Biden’s administration as of Wednesday morning. Data published by the CDC may be delayed, and doses may not have been given on the day reported.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky has warned in recent weeks that the US is at risk of losing all its recent gains in the battle against Covid-19 as the variants take advantage of Americans getting lax with safety measures. Biden has said the US will have enough Covid-19 vaccine for every adult American by the end of next month.
Every person 16 years and older is now eligible to be vaccinated as of Monday, and Biden administration officials say they estimate 90% of Americans now live within five miles of a vaccination site.
The daily average of the number of Covid-19 vaccines going into arms is more than 3 million doses a day, according to the CDC, but the pace of shots administered has slowed in recent days as concerns rise that supply is outstripping demand.
The White House has stressed that distributing the Covid-19 in an equitable manner across the country is central to its vaccination efforts and has focused on educating the public about the vaccines and their safety and efficacy.
On Monday, the Biden administration allocated $150 million from the American Rescue Plan to community-based health care providers to help boost their coronavirus response for underserved communities and vulnerable populations.
The administration has also poured resources into a public education campaign and into convincing hesitant Americans to get shots. In addition to television ads and other forms of outreach, Biden and former President Barack Obama recently appeared in an hour-long NBC special aimed at promoting Covid-19 vaccinations.
More than 560,000 people have died from Covid-19 in the US as of Wednesday morning, according to Johns Hopkins University.
This story has been updated with additional developments on Wednesday.