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White House: 90% of federal workers, military have gotten at least 1 COVID shot

Unclear is how many critical workers sought an exemption.

November 22, 2021, 12:14 PM

More than 90% of the nation’s 3.5 million federal workers have gotten at least one COVID-19 shot with the "vast majority” of employees fully vaccinated and another 5% either requesting an extension or exemption, the Biden administration announced on Monday.

Officials said the numbers -- which include civilian and military personnel -- show the government won't see disruptions this holiday season because of the mandate.

"We are successfully implementing vaccination requirements for the largest workforce in the United States with federal employees in every part of the nation and around the world," said Jeff Zients, the White House coordinator on COVID-19 response efforts.

While the overall number is generally good news for the White House, it’s still unclear how an estimated 350,000 federal workers still holding out on the vaccine shot might impact government operations. It's likely that vaccination uptake is higher in some agencies and parts of the country than others.

For example, White House staff, located in Washington, DC, are estimated to be nearly 99% vaccinated. But vaccine hesitancy is expected to be higher among border patrol units or federal prisons located in other parts of the U.S., raising questions about whether certain locations might experience staff shortages even if the government's overall rate of vaccine acceptance is high.

PHOTO: Department of Labor headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Department of Labor headquarters in Washington, D.C.
U. Baumgarten via Getty Images, FILE

It also wasn’t immediately clear on Monday when those employees requesting extensions or exemptions would run out of options if denied, with agencies just now beginning the counseling process.

Officials said agencies are being given ample leeway to decide how to handle workers who refuse to get a shot.

"To be clear, the goal of vaccination requirements is to protect workers, not to punish them. So tonight's deadline is not an endpoint or a cliff," Zients said.

The White House Office of Management and Budget was expected to release more details on Wednesday, including a breakdown of vaccination rates by agency.

Overall, the White House says 95% of employees are "in compliance," meaning they either have at least one dose or have filed a medical or religious exemption or asked for an extension. That includes 93% of workers at the Transportation Security Administration; 99% at the Federal Aviation Administration; 99% at the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and 98% at U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

PHOTO: Rep. Fred Keller (R-PA) speaks  at a press conference on vaccine mandate for businesses with House Republicans on Capitol Hill on Nov. 18, 2021, in Washington, D.C.
Rep. Fred Keller (R-PA) speaks at a press conference on vaccine mandate for businesses with House Republicans on Capitol Hill on Nov. 18, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Keller is introducing legislation to formally disapprove of and nullify President Biden's vaccine mandate for federal employers.
Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The mandate is the nation's first test of President Joe Biden's insistence that employer requirements work. Biden has proposed a separate Jan. 4 mandate that would apply to federal contractors and health care workers.

He also has proposed that businesses with 100 or more employees mandate vaccines or weekly testing; that regulation by the Labor Department is on hold pending a review by a federal appeals court.

Under Biden’s plan, more than 2 million civilian workers were supposed to have gotten their final vaccine dose two weeks ago so as to be considered "fully immunized” by Monday’s deadline. The White House has not released estimates yet on how many of those employees did so.

Military personnel face their own deadlines depending on their service branch.

ABC News' Luke Barr contributed to this report.

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