President Biden said Wednesday the government will reimburse small employers who give paid time off to workers who step out for a COVID-19 vaccine and need time to recover from any side effects.
Speaking from the White House, Mr. Biden implored businesses of all sizes to offer gift cards, compensation and other incentives to get vaccinated. He characterized it as a win-win that ensures a healthy and productive workplace while building sufficient immunity in American society.
“One concern I’ve heard from so many Americans is that they can’t afford the time to take the time off to get vaccinated or lose a day’s work because they’re feeling slightly under the weather after their shot,” Mr. Biden said. “No working American should lose a single dollar from their paycheck because they chose to fulfill their patriotic duty of getting vaccinated.”
The linchpin of his push is a tax credit for companies and nonprofits with fewer than 500 employees who offer paid sick leave during vaccine appointments and recovery time. Some people feel lousy after their shots, so the administration is offering up to $511 a day, per worker, to offset the cost of wages while they’re sidelined.
The announcement underscores Mr. Biden’s pivot from vaccinating health care workers, older adults and people who have chronic illnesses to working adults of all ages. Officials cited data that show nearly a quarter of employed Americans who say they don’t plan to get vaccinated could be pulled off the sidelines by cash incentives, gifts or paid time off.
“I mean, everybody should get vaccinated. Anything to encourage people to get vaccinated is fine,” Joe Grogan, who led the Domestic Policy Council under President Trump, told The Washington Times. “They’re throwing money at everything under the sun, so why not this?”
Mr. Biden said the 200 millionth COVID-19 shot was delivered Wednesday, meeting his 100-day goal with several days to spare.
The share of Americans who are vaccinated is the more important metric, however, as the U.S. seeks widespread immunity from the virus and a return to normalcy.
A quarter of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated and 4 in 10 Americans have received at least one dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Many more people will have to get vaccinated in order to quash the spread of the coronavirus and reach herd immunity, with scientists pointing to a goal of 70%-90% of the population.
“The broad swath of American adults still remain largely unvaccinated,” Mr. Biden said. “In a number of states, they weren’t eligible for the vaccination until this week. Too many younger Americans may still think they don’t need to get vaccinated.”
Every part of the U.S. is offering the vaccine to anyone 16 and older who wants the shots, instead of moving carefully through priority groups. Governors and federal officials determined supply was sufficient to fling open the gates.
The Kaiser Family Foundation says the U.S. may reach a “tipping point” in enthusiasm within a month, with supply outpacing demand and health officials scrambling to convince holdouts to do their part.
“While timing may differ by state, we estimate that across the U.S. as a whole we will likely reach a tipping point on vaccine enthusiasm in the next two to four weeks. Once this happens, efforts to encourage vaccination will become much harder, presenting a challenge to reaching the levels of herd immunity that are expected to be needed,” the foundation said in an analysis released this week.
Mr. Biden urged Americans to remain motivated. The vaccines are nearly perfect in staving off death from COVID-19 and will tamp down transmission, meaning people who get vaccinated will be protecting their friends and neighbors, too, he said.
Polling generally shows that GOP men, rural residents and some people of color are the most reluctant to get vaccinated, though administration officials said holdouts fall along a “spectrum” and aren’t always easy to categorize by geography or sentiment.
For instance, some young people might view the vaccines are safe but don’t feel any urgency because the overwhelming number of COVID-19 deaths have occurred in older adults.
That’s why the administration is looking at incentives through their employers.
Small businesses that take up the tax credit, which was part of Mr. Biden’s massive recovery legislation and is capped at 10 workdays, will receive payroll tax credits with their quarterly tax filings. The IRS posted instructions Wednesday on how small employers can tap into the credit.
The tax credit is retroactive to April 1 — some employers already provided paid leave — and will be offered until Sept. 30. It will apply to nearly half of private-sector employees in America, according to the administration.