Federal employees — including at the White House — must attest to being vaccinated against COVID-19, or else comply with routine testing and mitigation measures. But conservative commentator Charlie Kirk claims that the “White House staff is not required to be vaccinated,” baselessly questioning if undisclosed concerns about the vaccines are at play.
Update, Sept. 10: On Sept. 9, Biden announced a federal mandate for COVID-19 vaccines that applies to employees of the executive branch — including White House staff — and all federal agencies and members of the armed services. The mandate does not apply to those who work for Congress or the federal court system.
On July 29, President Joe Biden announced that federal employees and onsite contractors will be asked to attest to their vaccination status — and indicated that those who don’t attest to being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will be required to comply with other mitigation measures, including routine testing, masking, physical distancing and travel restrictions.
“It should be the No. 1 news story in the country,” Charlie Kirk claims in his Aug. 20 video, which has accrued more than 2 million views. “Did you know that in the White House they are not mandating the vaccine? Did you know that White House staff is not required to get vaccinated?”
He later asks whether some undisclosed safety concerns are behind the purported decision to not require the vaccines: “Do they know something about the vaccine? Why aren’t they mandating it? Are they seeing data that is questionable? Should we be worried because they know something we don’t?”
Kirk plays footage in which a reporter asks White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki whether a vaccine mandate for White House staff exists, and Psaki responds, “No, we have not mandated it.”
While there is still not a full-blown vaccine mandate for White House staffers, that exchange is from July 23 — six days before the White House announcement of the so-called “vaccine-or-test” requirement for all federal employees. A White House official confirmed to us that the policy applies to White House staff.
Kirk did not respond to our requests for comment.
The process of actually implementing the federal policy is ongoing among agencies. The Department of Justice, for example, released an Aug. 13 memo that said an electronic form for employees to indicate their vaccination status would “be available soon” and said it was developing a program to facilitate testing.
We asked the White House for more specifics on the policy rollout for its staff — and what percentage of its workers has so far attested to being fully vaccinated — but it didn’t provide us with answers.
On Aug. 23 — following the Food and Drug Administration’s full approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for those 16 and older — Biden urged business leaders and others to implement a similar policy.
“If you’re a business leader, a non-profit leader, a state or local leader who has been waiting for full FDA approval to require vaccinations, I call on you now to do that — require it,” Biden said. “Do what I did last month and require your employees to get vaccinated or face strict requirements.”
A reporter asked Psaki the same day whether a more strict mandate would be implemented for federal employees.
“I think you’re looking more at agency to agency or different factions of the government at this point, but expect there will be more on that front,” Psaki said.
In terms of the attestation policy, the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force instructs agencies to “ask employees to complete the Certification of Vaccination form” to “provide information about their vaccination status and attest to the truthfulness of that information. Individuals who do not complete the form will be treated as not fully vaccinated for purposes of agency safety protocols.”
Employees who make a false statement on the form risk being fired and are also committing a federal crime, according to the task force.
The task force also directs agencies to “establish a screening testing program for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, to test Federal employees and contractor employees who work onsite and who are not fully vaccinated or who have declined to provide their vaccination information. Enrollment in this testing program is mandatory for those individuals and they must be tested at least once a week.”
Employees who refuse to take a test may face “disciplinary measures,” it adds, and could be barred from “the agency workplace for the safety of others pending resolution of any disciplinary or other action the agency may pursue.”
Editor’s note: SciCheck’s COVID-19/Vaccination Project is made possible by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The foundation has no control over FactCheck.org’s editorial decisions, and the views expressed in our articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the foundation. The goal of the project is to increase exposure to accurate information about COVID-19 and vaccines, while decreasing the impact of misinformation.
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Lofthus, Lee J. “Memorandum For All Department Personnel.” U.S. Department of Justice. 13 Aug 2021.
“Remarks by President Biden on the COVID-19 Response and the Vaccination Program.” White House. 23 Aug 2021.
“Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, August 23, 2021.” White House. 23 Aug 2021.
“Testing.” Safer Federal Workforce Task Force. Accessed 23 Aug 2021.
Wagner, Erich. “More Stringent Vaccine Mandates On the Way for Some Feds.” Government Executive. 23 Aug 2021.
“White House Holds Press Briefing: July 23.” NBC News. YouTube. 23 Jul 2021.
“Vaccinations.” Safer Federal Workforce Task Force. Accessed 23 Aug 2021.