▶ Watch Video: CDC changing mask guidance for Americans vaccinated against COVID-19

Washington — President Biden said Tuesday he is considering a mandate for all federal employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, as the administration struggles to combat the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant and increase the pace of vaccinations.

“It’s under consideration right now, but if you’re not vaccinated right now, you’re not nearly as smart as I thought you were,” the president said when asked about a possible mandate for federal workers following a speech at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in Virginia.

The prospect of a federal employee vaccine requirement comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that even vaccinated people wear masks indoors in regions with high community transmission. On Monday, the Department of Veterans Affairs became the first federal agency to require vaccines for thousands of its employees. 

It’s unclear when a final determination on a vaccine mandate for federal employees might be made. 

Until now, the Biden administration has shied away from the idea of a vaccine mandate, as the White House and public health officials try to persuade Americans to get their shots. But the highly transmissible Delta variant, and rising cases in much of the country, have begun to change the dynamic. 

The federal government employs nearly 2.2 million workers, and the Defense Department alone employs roughly 768,000 people, according to the data from the Office of Personnel Management. 

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday the White House will continue to look to the guidance of public health experts, and the president and White House staff will wear masks if needed to follow that guidance. The Delta variant now accounts for the vast majority of all COVID-19 cases in the U.S. 

“First, we will, of course, be abiding by every aspect of the CDC guidelines on masking that they will provide this afternoon,” Psaki said earlier Tuesday. “And that does mean, as you conveyed, that we will be looking at the rates in different areas where the president may visit, and also the rates as they, if they move in Washington, D.C., and we will apply guidance accordingly. That means we will be prepared to wear masks again if required, if the guidance is leading to that, as would the president. And that will continue to be the case.”

The president confirmed Tuesday that he will wear a mask when he goes to areas of the country with high community transmission. 

“I certainly will when I travel to these areas,” he said.