U.S. vaccine mandates are working, Biden says, but 66 million still don't have shot

WASHINGTON, Oct 14 (Reuters) - President Joe Biden touted the success of mandates in spurring vaccination against COVID-19 in the United States on Thursday but said more needed to be done to get the 66 million people who are eligible but still unvaccinated to get the shot.

Vaccination rates against COVID-19 in the United States have risen by more than 20 percentage points after multiple institutions adopted vaccine requirements in recent months, while case numbers and deaths from the virus are down, Biden administration officials said on Wednesday.

Biden said in July federal workers needed to be vaccinated or get tested regularly. In September, he said federal workers needed to be vaccinated or face losing their jobs, and that employees at big companies needed to get jabs or be tested.

"The vaccine requirements that we started rolling out in the summer are working," Biden said, noting that the Labor Department's completed rule on vaccination requirements for businesses would be coming out shortly.

"We’re down to 66 million, still an unacceptably high number, of unvaccinated people," he said. "We can't let up now."

U.S. President Joe Biden waves as he boards Air Force One to depart O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., October 7, 2021. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

The latest Reuters update shows 66.3% of the United States population has received at least one shot and 57.3% are fully vaccinated. Administration officials said Wednesday 77% of eligible Americans had received at least one shot.

Some Republicans have pushed back on the mandates, including Texas Governor Gregg Abbott, who issued an executive order banning companies from mandating vaccines in the state. Some companies that operate there say they plan to ignore the ban.

"Vaccination requirements should not be another issue that divides us," Biden said.

Vaccines for children ages five to 11 are expected to be approved in the United States by year-end. Biden said a decision on that authorization by the appropriate authorities was expected in the next few weeks.

"If authorized, we are ready," Biden said, adding the government had purchased enough vaccines for those children.

Reporting by Steve Holland and Jeff Mason; Editing by Heather Timmons and Mark Heinrich and Kirsten Donovan

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Jeff Mason is a White House Correspondent for Reuters. He has covered the presidencies of Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Joe Biden and the presidential campaigns of Biden, Trump, Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain. He served as president of the White House Correspondents’ Association in 2016-2017, leading the press corps in advocating for press freedom in the early days of the Trump administration. His and the WHCA's work was recognized with Deutsche Welle's "Freedom of Speech Award." Jeff has asked pointed questions of domestic and foreign leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korea's Kim Jong Un. He is a winner of the WHCA's “Excellence in Presidential News Coverage Under Deadline Pressure" award and co-winner of the Association for Business Journalists' "Breaking News" award. Jeff began his career in Frankfurt, Germany as a business reporter before being posted to Brussels, Belgium, where he covered the European Union. Jeff appears regularly on television and radio and teaches political journalism at Georgetown University. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and a former Fulbright scholar.