When President Joe Biden announced last week that the federal government would soon require millions of workers to get a COVID vaccine or submit to weekly COVID tests, he made the reasoning behind his decision clear: Being unvaccinated is a public health threat, and the federal government has the right to take steps to address that threat in the workplace.
“As your president, I’m announcing tonight a new plan to require more Americans to be vaccinated to combat those blocking public health,” Biden said last week. “The bottom line: We’re going to protect vaccinated workers from unvaccinated coworkers.”
The new requirements have been met with a monsoon of criticism from the right, on the grounds that Biden lacks the constitutional authority to unilaterally require Americans to get their shots. And Biden’s insistence that the vaccinated need to be protected from those around them raises eyebrows, given that the vaccines remain incredibly effective at staving off serious COVID illness and death. But another important question about the forthcoming mandate remains unaddressed too: What about those unvaccinated workers who don’t pose even that miniscule level of threat to their co-workers, because they’ve already acquired immunity by recovering from the coronavirus?
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), which Biden has tasked with creating the rule in question, has yet to release specifics about what its requirements will look like. But there’s little reason to suspect that the previously infected will receive any dispensation from the eventual requirement. The CDC’s recommendations for who should get the vaccine make no distinction between those who have previously had COVID and those who have not. In response to an inquiry from The Dispatch, an administration official said that question would be part of OSHA’s rulemaking process, and deferred questions about who should get the vaccine to the Department of Health and Human Services: “It’s a health question, not [one for the White House].”