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President Biden defends necessity of vaccine mandates in visit to Chicago area

The president's visit to a Chicago suburb amounted to a short stump speech on the importance and effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccine mandates.

ELK GROVE VILLAGE, Ill. (CN) — The president wants you to get vaccinated, and he wants you to know that vaccine mandates work. That was the resounding message of Joe Biden's short trip to the Chicago area on Thursday, softly spoken from a podium in an unfinished data center in Elk Grove Village's industrial center.

The afternoon visit to Elk Grove Village was originally planned for Sept. 29, but was cancelled at the last minute as Biden went into talks with Democrats on his domestic policy goals.

It began with familiar stump speeches from Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, along with a short address from Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois' 8th Congressional District. All three used their time to extoll the need for vaccine mandates and the personal importance of getting vaccinated; Lightfoot in particular was eager to announce her Protect Chicago 77 initiative, which seeks to improve Chicago's full vaccination rate from its current 58% to 77% — a reference to the city's 77 distinct neighborhoods.

"Our challenge, but our opportunity, is to make sure not a single one of our neighborhoods is left behind," Lightfoot said.

Pritzker, meanwhile, claimed Illinois is the most vaccinated state in the Midwest region — a statement that is only true when considering how much of the population has received a single shot, as compared to how much of the population is fully vaccinated. In the former category, Illinois does lead, with about 69% of residents having gotten a single shot. Minnesota leads in the fully vaccinated rate at about 59%.

Biden's own speech was similar to the one he gave on Tuesday in Howell, Michigan. He used his time to plug the Build Back Better Act, praise union labor, and promise to help rebuild the middle class. Where it differed from the Michigan address was in its focus on vaccine mandates.

It was calculated to push back at conservative criticism of his Covid-19 vaccine mandates — both the mandate for federal employees officially enacted in September, and the still-percolating mandate from OSHA that will require all businesses with more than 100 employees to get those employees vaccinated.

"[The OSHA mandate will] require all employers with more than 100 people, whether they work for the federal government or not... to ensure their workers are fully vaccinated or face testing at least once a week," Biden said.

"My message [to employers] is, require your employees to get vaccinated," he later added.

Biden and Pritzker also used their time at the podium to boost private-sector businesses that have embraced vaccine mandates before the OSHA mandate comes into effect. This group includes United Airlines, as well as Clayco, a St. Louis-based construction firm. Clayco is overseeing the construction of the unfinished building in which the president's address was held, and was founded by Bob Clark, a wealthy Democratic donor. Clark personally donated over $269,000 to Democrats in the 2020 election cycle, and fundraised for Obama's 2012 reelection to the tune of almost $1 million.

"Thanks to the partners we have, like Clayco, a longtime vocal advocate of the lifesaving power of vaccination," Pritzker said.

Criticism of the federal vaccine mandate and other mandates in both the private and public sectors — such as at Clayco, United Airlines, and in the city of Chicago — has boiled over in recent months. The vitriol has grown from vocal opposition to lawsuits, and even isolated incidences of violence from those on the right who believe a vaccine mandate violates their bodily autonomy.

Biden flatly rejected this criticism in his speech, claiming that since July, close to 30 million vaccine-eligible Americans have gotten their shot, and that most of the victims of the Delta wave of the pandemic were those that remain unvaccinated. With the country still climbing out of the Covid-19 recession, Biden even went so far as to blame the U.S.' economic woes on the unvaccinated.

"The unvaccinated put our economy at risk," he said.

He also took potshots at what he considered the hypocrisy of some conservative institutions that publicly oppose vaccine mandates but privately encourage their employees to get vaccinated — like Fox News.

But in both his closing and opening remarks, he asked those who are skeptical of vaccines to put aside their skepticism for the sake of their loved ones.

"For God's sake, for your own sake, for the sake of your family, get vaccinated," Biden said.

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