NORMAN — The Biden administration announced Thursday they are implementing sweeping new vaccine requirements that require millions of Americans and thousands of Oklahomans to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
The new mandate requires all employers with more than 100 employees either have their employees vaccinated or show weekly proof of a negative COVID test. Additionally, every healthcare worker at medical facilities that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid will also be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Biden’s new mandate will make numerous Norman and Oklahoma Businesses require their employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, a move seen by several Oklahoma officials as government overreach.
Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor said in a statement that he is preparing litigation against the administration to combat this order.
“We respect the right of Oklahoma businesses and individuals to make healthcare decisions for themselves and their families,” he said in the statement. “My office will vigorously oppose any attempt by the federal government to mandate vaccines.”
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt in a statement Thursday argued “it is not the government’s role to dictate to private businesses what to do.”
“Once again President Biden is demonstrating his complete disregard for individual freedoms and states’ rights,” Stitt’s statement reads. “As long as I am governor, there will be no government vaccine mandates in Oklahoma. My administration will continue to defend Oklahoma values and fight back against the Biden administration’s federal overreach.”
When asked by The Transcript about states resisting this new order, a White House official said it is not necessarily a mandate since employees have the ability to choose either to get vaccinated or show proof of a negative test.
Scott Martin, president and CEO of the Norman Chamber of Commerce, called the order “a major overreach,” particularly for businesses operated “by and on their own set of values.”
“In my discussions and experience with our local businesses, many of them are already going out of their way to incentivize their employees to the maximum... The president should (not) be encouraging this kind of universal one-size-fits-all bandaid on businesses that are very different and very unique,” he said.
Two of the city’s biggest employers, the University of Oklahoma and Norman Public Schools, are unsure how this new mandate will apply to them. An NPS spokesperson said the school will reach out to the State School Boards Association and State Department to learn more about the mandate.
OU said they are aware of the new order and are currently “assessing its impact on OU employees.”
Dr. Dale Bratzler, chief quality officer for OU Health, said the vaccination mandate on healthcare workers at health facilities that receive Medicare or Medicaid is much-needed.
“It’s the right thing to do,” said Bratzler. “You would not want your family member to be taken care of by somebody who could be infected and possibly spreading a viral disease.”
Bratzler alluded to the numerous other vaccinations that are already required for healthcare workers and said the COVID-19 vaccine should not be any different.
“Most of us are quite used to it... The Influenza vaccine has been required for healthcare workers and we go through that every year where all of our healthcare workers that are patient facing or in a healthcare setting have to get vaccinated. So I believe COVID is exactly the same way,” Bratzler said.
“Healthcare workers are getting infected, and it’s been documented that healthcare workers can give it to patients. It’s been documented that health care workers can get it from patients. So I think it’s an important move around health care to require vaccinations.”
The order also applies to Norman Regional Health System. Regional Health System workers declined to comment until they fully review the administration’s new order.
From Sept. 3-9, Regional Health System had on average 56 COVID patients in its hospital at the end of each day. It averaged 16 COVID patients in the ICU at the end of each day, according to hospital data.
Stitt was joined by U.S. Sen. James Lankford, R-OK, in speaking against the order Thursday.
“My family and I chose to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, and I am grateful for it,” Lankford said in his statement. “Every Oklahoman and American should have that same choice and option. Federal employees and contractors, members of our military, health care workers, and everyone else in our nation should be able to choose whether to get vaccinated. Period. The Biden proposal ignores the natural immunity millions of Americans have because they have recovered from COVID and the millions of other Americans that do not want to be forced to take a vaccine for a multitude of personal, religious and medical reasons.”