A view of the White House from Lafayette Square in Washington, DC ( AFP / Brendan Smialowski)

Posts falsely claim White House staff exempt from vaccination order

Copyright AFP 2017-2021. All rights reserved.

Social media posts claim US government workers and pharmaceutical company staff are exempt from Covid-19 vaccination requirements. But President Joe Biden did issue an executive order directing federal employees to get vaccinated, while pharmaceutical firms are also telling their staff to get the shots.

"Why are White House employees exempt from a vaccine mandate they are demanding for the rest of us?" says a September 30, 2021 tweet that has been liked more than 11,000 times. A screenshot of it also circulated on Facebook.

Screenshot taken on October 14, 2021 of a tweet

The claim spread online after Biden issued an executive order on September 9 requiring Covid-19 vaccination for more than 3.5 million federal workers, including White House staffers.

"I have determined that to promote the health and safety of the Federal workforce and the efficiency of the civil service, it is necessary to require Covid-19 vaccination for all Federal employees, subject to such exceptions as required by law," the order said.

Allowable exceptions vary across the United States, but all states and the District of Columbia allow a medical exemption.

Broader claims

In addition to the executive order, Biden introduced a plan to require private employers with more than 100 workers to ensure they are vaccinated or tested weekly. The rule for how this will be applied is being crafted by The Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

On October 12, OSHA submitted a draft of the Covid-19 Vaccination Emergency Temporary Standard to the Office of the Federal Register, but it is not yet published and enforceable. When finalized, the rule will impact more than 80 million workers.

The broader action by the president led to additional posts that circulated on Instagram and Facebook in late September and early October. They claim that White House staff, many government workers and immigrants are exempt from the vaccine rule. But this is inaccurate.

Screenshot taken on October 14, 2021 of a Facebook post

Employees of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) are all federal employees and fall under the president's executive order.

US Postal Service workers, though federal employees, are not currently covered by the requirement.

A September 16 statement on the USPS website says: "Because the Postal Service is an independent federal agency that operates under a private sector collective bargaining model, modifications to working conditions are mandatory subjects of bargaining." It says that postal workers will have to bargain around the Emergency Temporary Standard from OSHA.

Congressional staff and the legislative branch of government are not covered by the executive order.

In August, Democratic lawmakers wrote to Dr Brian Monahan, the attending physician of Congress, asking that he introduce a vaccine requirement or minimum testing regulations, but such a rule is not currently in place.

The judicial branch of the government also falls outside the executive order.

An emailed statement from the Administrative Office of the US Courts said: "Decisions regarding vaccination and/or testing are made by individual courts based on a number of factors, including the health of the local community."

Migrants who are detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are being offered Covid-19 shots, according to the agency's pandemic response requirements. The guidelines say: "While ICE cannot force individuals in detention to be vaccinated, all detention facilities are responsible for ensuring their ICE detainees are offered the Covid vaccine in accordance with state priorities and guidance."

Pharmaceutical companies

The posts, including this version, also claim that employees of key pharmaceutical companies are exempt from vaccine rules.

Screenshot taken on October 14, 2021 of a Facebook post

But vaccine makers have moved to require Covid-19 shots.

Pfizer said it is requiring all US employees and contractors "to be fully vaccinated unless approved for a medical or religious accommodation from vaccination. For those granted a medical or religious accommodation, PCR testing is required."

AFP previously debunked a false claim about the vaccination status of the Pfizer CEO. Albert Bourla received his second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot on March 10.

Moderna also has a vaccine policy.

A statement issued on August 20 said: "Moderna will require Covid-19 vaccination for all workers in the United States, effective October 1, 2021. Requests for medical or religious exemptions will be considered on an individual basis. All Moderna workers are still required to follow local health authority and Moderna health and safety protocols when on-site."

Similarly, Johnson & Johnson requires vaccination. An emailed statement from the company said: "To ensure we are taking appropriate measures to create a safe working environment, employees and on-site contractors in the United States and Puerto Rico are required to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19, subject to legal requirements.

"The science proves that getting vaccinated is the most important step in protecting ourselves and our communities."

AFP has debunked more than 1,000 false and misleading claims about the Covid-19 pandemic, available here.

COVID-19 VACCINES