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VA first federal agency to mandate COVID vaccines for all 115,000 medical workers

Denis McDonough, Secretary of Veterans Affairs. (Sarah Silbiger/Pool/Abaca Press/TNS)
July 26, 2021

On Monday, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough announced the agency will begin requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for all VA health care professionals — including physicians, dentists, podiatrists, optometrists, registered nurses, physician assistants, expanded-function dental auxiliaries and chiropractors — who work in Veterans Health Administration facilities, visit VHA facilities or provide direct care to those VA serves under Title 38 VA employee status.

With McDonough’s decision, the VA is the first U.S. federal agency to outright require some its employees to take COVID-19 vaccines. According to the New York Times, the VA employs 115,000 frontline health care workers, who work with veteran patients.

All three COVID-19 vaccine options currently available in the U.S. are in use through an emergency use authorization (EUA) granted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). No COVID-19 vaccines currently available in the U.S. have received full FDA approval at this time.

“We’re mandating vaccines for Title 38 employees because it’s the best way to keep Veterans safe, especially as the Delta variant spreads across the country,” McDonough said. “Whenever a Veteran or VA employee sets foot in a VA facility, they deserve to know that we have done everything in our power to protect them from COVID-19. With this mandate, we can once again make — and keep — that fundamental promise.”

According to the VA press release, employees who fall under the vaccination requirement will have eight weeks to become fully vaccinated. VA employees can get vaccinated at no personal cost and receive four hours of paid administrative leave after demonstrating they have been vaccinated

The VA said the decision is “supported by numerous medical organizations including the American Hospital Association, America’s Essential Hospitals and a Multisociety group of the leading Infectious Disease Societies. The American Medical Association, American Nurses Association, American College of Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, Association of American Medical Colleges, and National Association for Home Care and Hospice also endorsed mandating COVID-19 vaccination for health care workers.”

The VA has recently seen four unvaccinated employees die with COVID-19 including three who tested positive for the new Delta variant of the virus. The agency also reported an outbreak among unvaccinated employees and trainees at a VA Law Enforcement Training Center, the third such instance since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Monday, the Wall Street Journal reported New York City and the state of California had also mandated their respective government employees either receive COVID-19 vaccines or undergo weekly coronavirus testing. The New York City policy affects 350,000 public workers, including teachers, police officers and office-based employees, beginning on Aug. 2. The California state policy affects 238,000 state employees and California government employees must also begin showing their proof of vaccination beginning on Aug. 2.

The U.S. Army is also reportedly considering a vaccine mandate for all Army personnel. Army Times first reported on July 1, that the Army had advised commands to prepare for a vaccine mandate by as early as Sept. 1, pending full FDA approval for the vaccines.