The Department of Veterans Affairs on Monday became the first federal agency to mandate coronavirus vaccines for workers as cases of the disease increase across the country amid the Delta variant and as the number of people getting inoculated drops off.
VA Secretary Denis McDonough said the directive will pertain to health care personnel — including physicians, dentists, podiatrists, optometrists, registered nurses, physician assistants, expanded-function dental auxiliaries and chiropractors — who work in VA facilities, visit the facilities or provide direct care to those served by the federal agency.
The employees will have eight weeks to get fully vaccinated.
“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 in a statement released by the agency.
“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,” he said.
McDonough’s statement noted that four VA employees died of the coronavirus in recent weeks.
None of them were vaccinated.
“At least three of those employees died because of the increasingly prevalent Delta variant. There has also been an outbreak among unvaccinated employees and trainees at a VA Law Enforcement Training Center, the third such outbreak during the pandemic,” the VA said in the statement.
President Biden was asked by NBC News’ Kelly O’Donnell about the VA’s mandate during a meeting in the White House Oval Office with Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.
“You are such a pain in the neck. But I’m going to answer your question because we’ve known each other for so long. It has nothing to do with Iraq,” the president shot back.
“I’ll answer your question: Yes, Veteran Affairs is going to in fact require that all docs working in facilities are going to have to be vaccinated,” he said.
Asked whether the president would move to require federal agencies and institutions to begin mandated vaccination programs as fewer people are getting the shots, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said any decision would be based on science, not politics.
“We do not want to look at our objective of getting more people vaccinated through a political prism. We don’t. And the president certainly recognizes that he is not always the right voice to every community about the benefits of getting vaccinated, which is why we have invested as much as we have in local voices and empowering local trusted voices,” she said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Monday that he is expanding New York City’s vaccination-or-test mandate to all municipal employees, including the Department of Education and the NYPD.
At the same time, medical and health care groups, including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Nursing and the American Public Health Association, called on health care facilities to require workers be vaccinated.
“Unfortunately, many health care and long-term care personnel remain unvaccinated,” the groups said in a statement. “We stand with the growing number of experts and institutions that support the requirement for universal vaccination of health workers.”
VA workers can be vaccinated for free at any of the agency’s facilities.
Employees will receive four hours of paid administrative leave after showing they have been vaccinated.
With Post wires