Coronavirus Roundup: Vaccine Mandate Updates; FDA Delays Review of Moderna Vaccine for Adolescents
There's a lot to keep track of. Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.
David Berteau, president and CEO of the Professional Services Council, which represents over 400 companies, told Government Executive on Friday there are “three big complications” in implementation of the vaccine mandate for federal contractors, which are “inconsistency in the implementation” of class deviations or changes to contracts; differences in implementation of the mandate at the contract and contracting officer level; and continuing changes in guidance from the Biden administration. The deadline for millions of employees of federal contractors to get vaccinated is December 8.
At least 20 states have filed lawsuits challenging the mandate for contractors, the Associated Press and 10 WBNS, a CBS affiliate, reported on Saturday. Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed.
Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday it would be “a big mistake” to delay the administration’s vaccine mandates until the holidays, following concerns about labor shortages. “United Airlines, that was among the first to do the mandate” and the “number of folks applying for jobs is through the roof,” she said. “The best thing we can do to get people back to work is to make sure everybody is vaccinated.”
New guidance that the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force issued on Friday says that agencies can grant employees up to four hours of administrative leave to get their booster shots. The updated guidance also covers what to do if employees lose their vaccination documentation and don’t have a copy of it.
The task force released new guidance for contractors on Monday, which involves accommodation request reviews, safety protocols those with accommodations must follow, protocols for documentation of vaccination, corporate affiliates of contractors, and noncompliance with the mandate.
Kiran Ahuja, director of the Office of Personnel Management, told Federal News Network in a recent interview more guidance on telework and remote work is coming “very soon.” Ahuja added: “We have this guide coming out. We’re also pulling together trainings and information around how to manage in a hybrid work environment and how to operate well in a work environment, as well as a new website focused on the future of work.”
The Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery released its newest quarterly report on Friday that spans July to September 2021. “SIGPR continues to work through issues uniquely inherent to the position of a new office that parachutes into existing agency constructs,” wrote Special IG Brian Miller. “We appreciate the professionalism of our colleagues in working through these issues. In particular, last quarter we worked with Treasury’s Office of General Counsel to adjust certain protocols in accessing information during an audit. Treasury’s Acting General Counsel circulated a memorandum to relevant officials highlighting their responsibility to cooperate fully with SIGPR, emphasizing the need for timely access to all information, and advising employees that they are entitled to communicate directly with SIGPR without permission from any Treasury official to do so.” Earlier this year, the office alleged there were “turf battles” over pandemic oversight.
The Treasury Department faced greater challenges than the Interior Department in distributing CARES Act payments to tribal nations and therefore, the payments were delayed, the Government Accountability Office said in a report issued on Friday. “Tribes reported several challenges accessing and using Treasury’s [Coronavirus Relief Fund] Tribal Set-Aside, which impacted some tribes’ ability to receive payments and increased administrative burden when tribes’ capacity was already strained,” said the report. “Treasury has recognized several lessons learned and applied some of them to its implementation of [Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund] assistance to tribes, such as increasing opportunities for tribal consultation on its allocation methodology. However, Treasury has not formalized these lessons learned into its tribal consultation policy,” which risks “that these lessons learned may be lost as staff and administrations change.”
The Agriculture Department IG recently launched a dashboard to publicly track USDA’s coronavirus funds enacted, budgeted, obligated and spent. This can be broken down by appropriations bill, agency, focus area and use of funds.
Starting on Nov. 1, all visitors coming into the Pentagon or any facility protected by the Pentagon Force Protection Agency must show a completed form titled “Contractor Personnel and Visitor Certification of Vaccination,” the Pentagon announced on Friday. “Any visitor who indicates they are not yet fully vaccinated, not vaccinated, or declines to respond will, in addition to the [the form], be required to provide a negative COVID test result (from either a rapid test or a PCR test) dated no more than 72 hours prior to the visit or they will be denied entry,” said the Pentagon.
The State Department gave a passport processing status update on Friday. “Routine processing of a passport application now takes eight to 11 weeks, and expedited processing (for an additional $60) takes five to seven weeks,” said the department. “These new processing times reflect a return to the way we defined our processing times before the pandemic. Our processing times now begin the day we receive your application at a passport agency or center, not on the day you mail your application or apply for a passport at a local acceptance facility. We are no longer using door-to-door timeframes to calculate our estimated routine and expedited service times.”
The intelligence community said in a declassified report on Friday COVID-19 wasn’t developed as a biological weapon. “Most agencies also assess with low confidence that SARS-CoV-2 probably was not genetically engineered; however, two agencies believe there was not sufficient evidence to make an assessment either way,” said the report. “The IC assesses China’s officials did not have foreknowledge of the virus before the initial outbreak of COVID-19 emerged.” Also, the IC “remains divided on the most likely origin of COVID-19,” the report continued. “All agencies assess that two hypotheses are plausible: natural exposure to an infected animal and a laboratory-associated incident.”
On Friday, the Food and Drug Administration authorized Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine for kids ages five to 11. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s advisory committee on immunization practices will meet this week to discuss the recommendations.
The FDA needs more time to review Moderna’s vaccine for adolescents ages 12 to 17, so it can look into a rare side effect: myocarditis, which is inflammation of the heart muscle, the company announced on Sunday. The review may not be done before January 2022.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki announced on Sunday she tested positive for coronavirus and is only having mild symptoms, so she’s working from home. “While I have not had close contact in person with the president or senior members of the White House staff since Wednesday and tested negative for four days after that last contact, I am disclosing today’s positive test out of an abundance of transparency,” she said in a statement. “I last saw the president on Tuesday, when we sat outside more than six-feet apart and wore masks.”
The Interior Department is creating a new records system for COVID-19 information, such as vaccination statuses of employees, contractors and visitors, said a notice scheduled to publish in the Federal Register on November 4.
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