In August 2021, a viral meme made a broad claim about vaccine requirements. Previously, employees of the White House, CDC, FDA, WHO, Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson, were not required to be vaccinated for COVID-19. Many had the option of regular testing if they did not wish to receive a vaccine. However, on Sept. 9, U.S. President Joe Biden announced that a majority of federal workers and contractors would be required to be vaccinated, including White House staff, with no mention of the option of testing. According to The New York Times, vaccines would not be required for "those who work for Congress or the federal court system." Also, both Moderna and Johnson & Johnson had set a deadline of early October for all workers to be vaccinated, unless they had a specific exemption. However, the WHO and Pfizer did not require vaccinations. For these reasons, on Sept. 9, the rating on this story was changed from "True" to "Mixture."
In August 2021, various memes claimed to show a “list of employers not requiring their employees to get vaccinated” for COVID-19, including staff in the White House, CDC, FDA, WHO, Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson (the latter three are pharmaceutical companies that provide COVID vaccinations to the public). The phrase “White House vaccine mandate” trended on Google around the same time.
A reader sent in this screenshot:
It’s true that, as of August 2021, these organizations did not require staff to be vaccinated for COVID. However, guidelines changed over time as the delta variant raged across the country. The vast majority of hospitalizations were in unvaccinated patients.
The White House, CDC, and FDA
On July 29, 2021, the Biden White House announced a vaccine mandate. It said that “every federal government employee and onsite contractor will be asked to attest to their vaccination status.” People who work at the White House, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are all federal employees.
Further, “anyone who does not attest to being fully vaccinated will be required to wear a mask on the job no matter their geographic location, physically distance from all other employees and visitors, comply with a weekly or twice weekly screening testing requirement, and be subject to restrictions on official travel.”
While these were the initial guidelines, the Biden administration later provided an update with an announcement on Sept. 9. The Associated Press reported that vaccines would be required with no further option of regular testing. The AP also reported that “federal workers and contractors will have 75 days to get fully vaccinated,” and that anyone who doesn’t comply “will be referred to their agency’s human resources department for counseling and discipline, to include potential termination.” According to The New York Times, this did not include “those who work for Congress or the federal court system.”
We contacted the White House to receive any further updates since this announcement was made, and will update this story should we receive a response.
We contacted the World Health Organization (WHO) to ask if it had a vaccine policy. In response, WHO spokesperson Dr. Margaret Harris told us: “In line with UN Medical Directors consensus opinion, COVID-19 vaccination is strongly encouraged but is currently not mandatory for personnel.”
Pfizer responded to our email with a statement that described an option of being vaccinated or participating in “regular weekly COVID-19 testing.”
Pfizer is requiring all U.S. colleagues and contractors to become vaccinated as a condition of work or participate in regular weekly COVID-19 testing. This is to best protect the health and safety of our colleagues and the communities we serve. Outside the U.S., the company is strongly encouraging all colleagues who are able to do so in their countries get vaccinated. Colleagues who have medical conditions or religious objections will be able to seek accommodations. Colleagues are still required to adhere to all COVID-19 state, local, and Pfizer safety procedures while engaged in Pfizer work.
We did not yet hear back from a spokesperson from Moderna. However, 11Alive.com also reported on the viral meme, and linked to the company’s website. In a statement, Moderna published that the company “will require COVID-19 vaccination for all workers in the United States, effective October 1, 2021.”
Johnson & Johnson
In an email response from Johnson & Johnson, the company shared this statement that bore similarities to Moderna’s decision to require all employees to be vaccinated by early October:
As a global healthcare leader, Johnson & Johnson remains committed to following the science and to taking appropriate measures to support the health and well-being of our employees and contractors, as well as to uphold our responsibilities to the communities in which we live and work. As COVID-19 continues to devastate families and cause untold hardship, the data shows getting vaccinated is critical to helping end the pandemic.
On August 16th, the Company announced that effective October 4th, all employees and contractors of Johnson & Johnson in the United States will be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Individuals who have medical conditions or other reasons not to be vaccinated will be able to seek accommodations.
In sum, here’s what we found regarding the viral meme. Following a Sept. 9 announcement from President Biden, staff at the White House, as well as a majority of federal workers and contractors, will be required to be vaccinated. Also, both Moderna and Johnson & Johnson announced plans to require the immunization for their employees by early October. However, as of September, workers with the WHO and Pfizer were not required to be vaccinated against COVID-19. In light of these updates that have occurred over time, the rating on this fact check has been updated from “True” to “Mixture.”