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List of federal vaccine mandate exemptions is inaccurate

September 30, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: Numerous government entities are exempt from President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandates, including the legislative branch, the judicial branch, White House staff, and employees with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The U.S. Postal Service and vaccine makers Moderna and Pfizer are also exempt, as well as undocumented immigrants.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: Partly false. An official with the U.S. Office of Management and Budget told The Associated Press that White House staff and employees of the CDC, FDA and NIAID are not exempt from the mandates. The Postal Service, Moderna and Pfizer are expected to be covered by Biden’s vaccine requirements for large businesses. Biden does not have the authority to pass mandates for the legislative and judicial branches. Further, undocumented immigrants were not mentioned in the mandates.

THE FACTS: In an effort to curb the surging COVID-19 delta variant, Biden issued far-reaching federal vaccine requirements Sept. 9 that cover as many as 100 million Americans. Included in the mandates are federal employees and contractors as well as private-sector employees and health care workers.

In the weeks since the announcement, several false claims have spread online suggesting the government is attempting to evade its own requirements or allow businesses like Pfizer — the pharmaceutical company responsible for developing the only COVID-19 vaccine with full FDA approval — to opt out of the mandates.

One such image containing a list of the supposedly exempt entities has been shared tens of thousands of times across social media platforms. However, claims that the rules don’t apply to several major government agencies and pharmaceutical companies are incorrect, as are claims that the president purposefully exempted the other two branches of government.

In his executive order, Biden mandated vaccination for employees of the executive branch and contractors who do business with the federal government, with no option to test out. The order includes exceptions for workers seeking religious or medical exemptions from vaccination, according to Jen Psaki, White House press secretary.

The White House, FDA, CDC and NIAID all fall under the executive branch, meaning their staff members are categorized as federal employees.

An official with the OMB, which oversees the implementation of the president’s vision across the executive branch, confirmed to the AP in an email that White House staff, CDC, FDA and NIAID employees are not exempt from the vaccine mandate.

In addition to the mandate for federal workers, Biden also issued separate requirements for businesses with more than 100 employees. Such businesses will have to mandate vaccinations or require weekly testing of employees, as enacted through a forthcoming rule from OSHA that carries hefty penalties for violations. Those rules have not yet been finalized.

Because the Postal Service is an independent federal agency that functions under a private-sector collective bargaining model, it is not included in the federal employee mandate, according to a Sept. 16 statement from the agency.

However, the service is still subject to OSHA regulations, which means it may need to comply with Biden’s large business requirements. The Postal Service said in a statement that once OSHA’s rule is issued the agency can “move quickly to determine its applicability to our employees and how best to implement.”

Similarly, both Moderna and Pfizer would also fall under the rules for large businesses.

Moderna spokeswoman Colleen Hussey told the AP that the company is not exempt from the federal vaccine mandate. Pfizer spokeswoman Pamela Eisele also said Pfizer expects its employees to be included and the company is awaiting the new OSHA rule for confirmation.

Additional suggestions that Biden intentionally “exempted” the legislative and judicial branches and their employees are also untrue. Executive orders only apply to the executive branch, and experts say the president does not have the authority to regulate the other branches of government in the same way.

“The president cannot mandate the employment practices of the other branches through an executive order,” said Mark Rozell, dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University and an expert on presidential powers. “That strikes me as a violation of separation of powers.”

When it comes to immigration, Psaki confirmed during a Sept. 10 press briefing that the government is not currently requiring undocumented migrants who cross the southern border to be vaccinated. She made the admission while responding to a question from a Fox News reporter, but did not elaborate further.

The most recent version of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s COVID-19 pandemic response requirements state that all detention facilities are responsible for ensuring detainees are offered the vaccine, however, “ICE cannot force individuals in detention to be vaccinated.”

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This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.