In an effort to increase sluggish vaccination rates across the country and "put this virus behind us," President Biden announced Thursday that all civilian federal workers and contractors must be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Federal workers will be required to sign forms attesting they’ve been vaccinated against the coronavirus or else comply with new rules on mandatory masking, weekly testing, and social distancing. The president hopes the new guidelines will serve as an example for the private sector to follow.
“Right now, too many people are dying or watching someone they love die and say, ‘If I’d just got the vaccine,’” Biden said in a somber address from the East Room of the White House. “This is an American tragedy. People are dying who don’t have to die.”
Members of Oklahoma’s congressional delegation are supportive of the COVID vaccines, although none favor government mandating vaccinations. Their hope -- and the hope of the Biden administration -- was that enough Americans would voluntarily get the shot that the virus would be unable to continue spreading, but distrust and disinformation, combined with the highly contagious Delta variant, one member says, have resulted in just the opposite.
"I had hoped we wouldn’t have to go back to this," said Rep. Frank Lucas, (R) OK-3, lamenting the return this week to required mask-wearing at the Capitol, as well as, the surge in cases everywhere. He said the increase is largely due to those who have so far shunned the vaccines, which is about 60% of Oklahomans.
"The unvaccinated people are creating a circular flow of this virus," Lucas said in an interview Thursday. "COVID-19 just continues to spin around and it’s getting stronger."
Lucas has been outspoken in urging Oklahomans to get vaccinated. He would prefer that a mandate wasn’t needed, but like the president, Lucas is frustrated -- he said Oklahomans need to be smarter.
"Ignore the nonsense on the internet about it’ll melt your genetic code, or it’s filling you full of chips, or it’ll sterilize you -- that’s nonsense," said Lucas. "Go to legitimate sources, look it up, read what’s really going on."
Congressman Markwayne Mullin, (R) OK-2, believes getting vaccinated should be a personal decision.
"I got the vaccination because I have to travel," Rep. Mullin said in an interview this week.
He said getting vaccinated was the right thing for him, but he doesn't think government should tell people whether they should or should not get the shot.
"The person that takes the risk is the person that’s not vaccinated and that is their decision, that’s their choice," Mullin said.
But Rep. Lucas said choosing not to get vaccinated allows the virus to keep circulating, and that can put others at risk.
"Think about them," Lucas implored. "You can decide your own fate, but don’t decide their fate for them, like 600,000 Americans who have died from this so far."
Worldwide, the death toll from COVID now stands at almost 4.2 million people.