WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs on Monday mandated that its doctors and other medical staff get COVID-19 vaccines, becoming the first federal agency to impose such a requirement at a time of entrenched vaccine reluctance by some Americans.
“It’s the best way to keep Veterans safe, especially as the Delta variant spreads across the country,” Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement.
“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,” McDonough added.
The VA comprises the largest U.S. healthcare system, employing more than 367,200 full-time healthcare professionals and support staff at 1,293 facilities, according to its website. The VA’s vaccination mandate applies to doctors, dentists, registered nurses and physician assistants, among others.
The agency said these employees will have eight weeks to become fully vaccinated. It said four unvaccinated VA employees already have died from COVID-19.
President Joe Biden sidestepped a question from reporters at the White House on whether the vaccination requirement should be extended to more federal employees.
The VA’s decision was announced on the same day that 57 leading U.S. medical associations called for all healthcare and long-term care employers to require employees to get vaccinated.
With the highly transmissible Delta variant leading to a surge in COVID-19 cases, the U.S. government is also seeking to jump-start its vaccination drive, with COVID-19 cases rising especially in areas with relatively low vaccination rates.
California and New York City announced on Monday their own mandates that government workers get vaccinated against COVID-19 or be regularly tested for the virus.
The United States is reporting more than 47,000 daily cases of COVID-19, according to a seven-day U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention average, much lower than a peak above 200,000 at the beginning of the year but nearly triple the pace of a month ago.
(Reporting by Jan Wolfe, Trevor Hunnicutt and Lisa Lambert; Editing by Will Dunham and Franklin Paul)