United States (US) employers, including the US Government, are increasingly mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for American employees, amid the past few weeks of increased Delta variant cases. The US Government also moved forward with approving the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for a booster dose for immunocompromised Americans only this week. Meanwhile, the US, in coordination with the United Kingdom (UK) and Canada, imposed additional sanctions on Belarus this week, while the European Union (EU) and US aligned on expressing concern over some legislation advancing in Poland.
In this issue, we also cover:
- COVID-19 Highlights
- Notable US, EU and UK Developments
Increasingly, US employers are starting to mandate vaccinations, ahead of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) anticipated full approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. President Biden met virtually with four business, university and health care leaders on Wednesday to discuss their decision to require COVID-19 vaccinations. He expressed optimism that additional employers would follow suit. Meanwhile, on Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released data that reflected the nationwide COVID positive-test rate in America declined during the week that ended Monday, breaking an upward trend fueled by the Delta variant.
On Monday, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in a Memorandum to Defense Department employees that he would “seek the president’s approval to make the vaccines mandatory no later than mid-September, or immediately upon the U.S. Food and Drug Administration [FDA] licensure, whichever comes first.” On Thursday, 12 August, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra announced the Department would require more than 25,000 members of its health care workforce be vaccinated against COVID-19.
The CDC vaccine advisory panel met on Thursday, 12 August, to discuss COVID-19 vaccine booster shots for immunocompromised people. The FDA issued a statement later that day recommending additional doses of Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines only for this category of Americans.
While Canada re-opened its border to fully vaccinated Americans on Monday, 9 August, the US Government has not reciprocated. Some reports indicate Canada may re-evaluate the border decision in light of the Delta variant. This week, the US Government revised its travel guidance for several countries, saying fully vaccinated Americans could travel abroad but would need to have a negative COVID test for re-entry.
On Thursday, the US Department of State announced the United States is donating 5.5 million Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine doses to the 15 member countries of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). This includes a shipment consisting of nearly 569,000 doses delivered this week to Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago, and to Barbados.
Media reports this week indicated the European Medicines Agency (EMA) is investigating possible new side effects of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines that include kidney inflammation, an allergic skin reaction, and a renal disorder with heavy protein loss in urine. The EMA is also looking into menstrual disorders as a possible side effect of the COVID-19 vaccines, including those from AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.
Notable US Developments
In a speech on Monday at the University of Maryland, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke of American competitiveness, calling for a “domestic renewal” of investments before “making more trade deals.” He called for the President’s “generational investment,” saying it would make the US competitive “in the 21st-century global economy from a position of strength.” He added,
We will keep faith with American workers; shape the terms of global trade; ensure that labor, environmental, and intellectual property standards are protected; and stand with our allies and partners when others seek to take advantage of them.”
The US Senate was in session again this week, recessing Wednesday until 13 September. The US House of Representatives remained in recess, but is now set to return to Washington the week of 23 August. On Sunday, 8 August, the Senate voted 68 to 29 vote to end debate on the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill. Prior to the Sunday evening vote, Senators spent the weekend trying to negotiate amendments changing the infrastructure bill’s cryptocurrency regulations and allowing coronavirus aid money to be spent on infrastructure. The Senate approved its Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (H.R. 3684) on Tuesday in a 69 to 30 vote, sending the bill to the House.
Senate Democrats also released a $3.5 trillion budget resolution on Monday, 9 August, their blueprint for the partisan reconciliation bill that includes their healthcare and social spending priorities. The Senate approved the budget resolution on Wednesday in a party-line vote (50 to 49). Senate leaders have directed committees to draft their pieces of the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill by 15 September. Notably, Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) instructed the Senate Finance Committee to consider how to use a “carbon polluter import fee” – along with corporate and international tax reform, tax fairness for high-income individuals, IRS tax enforcement, and health care savings – to offset the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package. It remains to be seen how Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee will draft such a program, but Democrats have previously proposed a border adjustment measure targeting carbon-intensive imports (e.g. steel and aluminum products).
The House is set to return early from its August recess to vote on the Senate budget resolution. A group of moderate House Democratic lawmakers is reportedly prepared to vote against the budget resolution, unless Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California) first schedules a vote on the Senate bipartisan infrastructure bill. Due to the narrow majority margin in the House, Speaker Pelosi can lose no more than three Democratic votes.
On Wednesday, 11 August, the White House announced President Biden will bring together leaders from a diverse group of the world’s democracies at a virtual Summit for Democracy in December, to be followed in roughly a year’s time by a second, in-person Summit. This week, President Biden announced his intent to nominate María Pagán to serve as Deputy United States Trade Representative (at the World Trade Organization in Geneva) and Christopher Wilson to serve as Chief Innovation and Intellectual Property Negotiator in the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR).
On Monday, 9 August, the US Treasury Department, in coordination with Canada and the United Kingdom, sanctioned 23 individuals and 21 entities pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13405, as well as a new E.O. of 9 August 2021 titled, “Blocking Property of Additional Persons Contributing to the Situation in Belarus” that expands Belarus sanctions authorities. The action came on the one-year anniversary of the fraudulent 9 August 2020 presidential election in Belarus. Belarusian officials retaliated on Wednesday, ordering the United States to reduce its embassy staff in Minsk to five people by 1 September. The Belarussian Government also revoked its consent to the appointment of Julie Fisher as the US Ambassador to Minsk, who was sworn in to the position last December but has been unable to enter Belarus due to visa delays.
On Wednesday, Secretary Blinken issued a statement expressing “deep concern” over Poland’s Parliament passing legislation that it says would “severely” restrict “the process for Holocaust survivors and their families, as well as other Jewish and non-Jewish property owners, to obtain restitution for property wrongfully confiscated during Poland’s communist era.” The Biden Administration urged President Andrzej Duda to “not sign the bill into law or that, in line with the authority granted to him as President, he refer the bill to Poland’s constitutional tribunal.” The US also expressed concern with a separate bill that targets a sizeable US commercial investment by prohibiting non-European investors from having a controlling stake in Polish media companies. While acknowledging Poland is “an important NATO ally,” Secretary Blinken added, “These pieces of legislation run counter to the principles and values for which modern, democratic nations stand.”
Notable EU Developments
The EU and US aligned this week on expressing concern over Poland’s media legislation. The European Commission (EC), which polices EU law, is reportedly tracking the bill closely, particularly since the Senate has yet to approve the bill in Poland. EC Vice President for Values and Transparency Vera Jourova said of the bill, “Media pluralism and diversity of opinions are what strong democracies welcome, not fight against.”
On the anniversary of the fraudulent presidential election in Belarus, EU High Representative Josep Borrell issued a statement reiterating the EU’s efforts alongside like-minder partners to “end the repressive practices”. He also stressed the EU’s readiness “to consider further measures in light of the regime’s blatant disregard of international commitments. The only way to end the political crisis is through an inclusive national dialogue”.
Notable UK Developments
On Monday, the UK Government called for urgent global action in response to a UN report published that day by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the science of climate change, which reflected Earth has warmed more than previously estimated. Prime Minister Boris Johnson stated,
The UK is leading the way, decarbonising our economy faster than any country in the G20 over the last two decades. I hope today’s IPCC report will be a wake-up call for the world to take action now, before we meet in Glasgow in November for the critical COP26 summit.”
Also on Monday, the UK imposed a package of trade, financial and aviation sanctions on Belarus, in response to the continued undermining of democracy and human rights violations by the Lukashenko regime. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said of the action,
The Lukashenko regime continues to crush democracy and violate human rights in Belarus. These sanctions demonstrate that the UK will not accept Lukashenko’s actions since the fraudulent election. The products of Lukashenko’s state-owned industries will not be sold in the UK, and our aerospace companies will not touch his fleet of luxury aircraft.”
On 12 August, the UK’s Mission in Australia announced a call for bids on projects that would develop coordination between the UK and Australia on maritime issues in the Indo-Pacific region. The Mission is welcoming bids on the following, but noting it is not limited to just these categories: (1) directly delivering or developing options for maritime capacity-building in third countries; (2) building networks between experts on maritime issues in the UK, Australia and third countries; and (3) using UK and Australian expertise to deliver impactful research on pressing maritime issues, particularly in the fields of maritime security and law. Projects in other areas such maritime trade or ecology would also be considered. Project proposals must be received by 6 September 2021.