WASHINGTON — The Biden administration will end most federal Covid-19 vaccine requirements next week, rolling back a vast assertion of government power that helped bring an end to the worst public health threat in 100 years but roiled American politics in the process.
The White House announced the shift in policy on Monday, three years after the start of a pandemic that eventually prompted the United States and nations around the world to require hundreds of millions of people to be vaccinated against the fast-moving and rapidly changing coronavirus.
But on May 11, those requirements will end for federal workers, international travelers, contractors, Head Start employees and health care workers at many hospitals, according to a statement issued by the White House.
“While vaccination remains one of the most important tools in advancing the health and safety of employees and promoting the efficiency of workplaces,” the statement said, “we are now in a different phase of our response when these measures are no longer necessary.”
The short, four-paragraph statement closes one of the most contentious chapters in recent American history, in which vaccine mandates became a centerpiece for a vitriolic battle between Republicans and Democrats across the country.
That battle was stoked by former President Donald J. Trump, who initially championed the creation of the Covid vaccines, and his supporters, many of whom recoiled against the idea that the government was telling them what to do.
Starting on May 11, the government will no longer do so. Officials said that since January 2021 — about the time that the vaccines started becoming available — Covid-19 deaths in the United States had declined by 95 percent, and hospitalizations were down almost 91 percent.
That mirrors the trend around the world, where deaths from the virus are at their lowest levels since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the White House.
Medical experts, many of whom were fierce advocates of government vaccine mandates throughout the pandemic, largely agree that the need for such requirements has diminished as the virus — once a vicious threat — has faded.
The vaccine requirements will be eliminated on the same day that the Biden administration ends the Covid-19 public health emergency, which was declared by the Trump administration on Jan. 31, 2020, shortly after the initial discovery of the respiratory disease in China.
Other Covid vaccine mandates have already been relaxed by colleges, local and state governments, and private companies. But the end of federal vaccine requirements will have an immediate impact on tens of thousands of Americans, as well as foreigners who travel to the United States.
Among them is likely to be Novak Djokovic, the Serbian professional tennis player who is currently ranked No. 1 in the world in men’s singles but who has been banned from coming to play in the United States because he will not confirm that he is vaccinated.
The lifting of the vaccine requirement for international travelers will most likely mean Mr. Djokovic will be able to play in the U.S. Open, which is scheduled to take place in New York in September.
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