(Recasts with start of Biden speech)
By Jeff Mason, David Shepardson and Ahmed Aboulenein
WASHINGTON, Sept 9 (Reuters) - President Joe Biden on Thursday said he will require all federal employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the U.S. Department of Labor will issue a rule requiring that businesses with more than 100 employees have their workers vaccinated or tested weekly.
The new measures, which Biden laid out in remarks from the White House, cover about two-thirds of all U.S. employees, part of a broader, more aggressive attempt to get Americans vaccinated amid a surge in COVID-19 cases from the fast-spreading Delta variant.
"We're in a tough stretch and it could last for a while," Biden said. "We can and will turn the tide on COVID-19."
Under Biden's plan, the administration would also require vaccinations for more than 17 million healthcare workers at hospitals and other institutions that participate in Medicare and Medicaid social programs for poor, disabled and older Americans, senior administration officials said.
The new vaccination requirements cover about 100 million workers, or about two-thirds of all workers in the United States, officials said.
The plan is likely to face legal challenges, and was immediately disparaged by Biden's Republican opposition. It could be months before the mandates' impact is felt.
Previously Biden, a Democrat, required federal employees be vaccinated or get tested. Now federal workers have 75 days to get vaccinated, or face termination unless they fall into limited exemption categories.
The U.S. Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will issue its rule for private companies to require vaccines or tests in coming weeks. OSHA plans to take enforcement actions against those that did not comply, with substantial fines of nearly $14,000 per violation.
The medical work requirement will be implemented through a health agency rule that it plans to issue in October.
The administration also plans to ramp up testing capacity for the virus.
Biden will use his authority under the Defense Production Act to spur industry to accelerate production of the tests, and big retailers including Walmart, Amazon.com and Kroger will sell the tests at cost for the next three months to make them more affordable, the officials said.
Critics have said the Biden administration has not done enough on testing during its seven months in office.
The full recovery of the U.S economy depends on blunting the spread of the virus, which is a key health and political goal of the president, who entered the White House in January.
"Our overarching objective here is to reduce the number of unvaccinated Americans," White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, noting that 80 million still have not been vaccinated. "We want to reduce that number, decrease hospitalizations and deaths and allow our children to go to school safely."
Federal workers unions suggested on Thursday they would accept the vaccine mandate.
Despite a full-throttled campaign by the Biden administration urging all eligible Americans to get the free vaccines, just over 53% of Americans are fully vaccinated, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The disease has killed more than 654,000 people in the United States, and deaths and hospitalizations have been rising sharply as the easily transmissible Delta variant of the virus spreads. https://tmsnrt.rs/3A1KHg3
Biden's speech also was to cover mask-wearing, protecting the economic recovery from the pandemic-induced recession, and improving healthcare for people infected with COVID-19.
"He's going to speak directly to vaccinated people and their frustration, and he wants them to hear how we're going to build on what we've done to date to get the virus under control and to return to some version of normal in this country," Psaki said.
The White House COVID recovery plans https://www.reuters.com/world/us/bidens-covid-19-strategy-thwarted-by-anti-vaxxers-delta-variant-2021-07-29, and the projected U.S. economic rebound were based on the vast majority of eligible Americans being vaccinated this year. But the public health issue has become politicized, with a vocal minority refusing the shots and mask mandates, arguing that they are an infringement on their individual rights.
COUNTRY 'STILL IN PANDEMIC MODE'
The spread of the Delta variant has raised concerns as children head back to school, while also rattling investors, upending company return-to-office plans, and tamping down https://www.reuters.com/world/us/us-job-growth-slows-sharply-august-unemployment-rate-falls-52-2021-09-03 hiring.
Biden's plan also calls on large entertainment venues to require vaccination or testing for entry.
The White House plans to offer booster shots providing additional protection to those who are fully vaccinated. That goes against arguments from the World Health Organization and other advocates that say with global vaccine supplies limited, rich countries should pause booster programs until more people worldwide are inoculated.
Boosters could begin the week of Sept. 20.
But with Delta causing more symptomatic breakthrough infections among fully inoculated individuals, most vaccinated Americans want a booster, a recent Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll found.
Abbott Laboratories and other test manufacturers are trying to boost production https://www.reuters.com/world/us/us-covid-19-tests-again-short-supply-infections-soar-schools-reopen-2021-08-27 as cases soar, after having scaled back in recent months. CVS Health Corp recently imposed limits on the number of at-home tests customers can buy.
The White House said the federal government cannot mandate vaccines nationwide, but it has encouraged school districts, businesses and other entities to require shots. (Reporting by Jeff Mason, Ahmed Aboulenein, David Shepardson, and Trevor Hunnicutt; Additional reporting by Steve Holland and Susan Heavey; Writing by Jeff Mason and Steve Holland; Editing by Heather Timmons, Bill Berkrot and Howard Goller)
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.