The Department of Veterans Affairs said Monday it will require front-facing health care workers to be vaccinated against the coronavirus by the fall, the first federal agency to mandate inoculations.
The mandate includes physicians, dentists, nurses, physician assistants and other frontline medical staff at VA facilities across the country. These employees will have eight weeks to become fully vaccinated.
The rule is “the best way to keep Veterans safe,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a news release announcing the move.
“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.”
Roughly 115,000 employees will fall under the VA’s mandate, according to the New York Times, which first reported the decision.
“I am doing this because it’s the best way to keep our veterans safe, full stop,” the secretary told the Times.
The Biden administration has been grappling with how best to push up vaccination rates, which have stagnated in parts of the country despite a surge in cases tied to the highly contagious Delta variant.
Thus far the White House has been wary of top-down approaches, preferring instead to encourage local governments and private businesses to set their own rules around vaccinations.
The VA said four employees have died in recent weeks because of Covid. All of the workers were unvaccinated and at least three died because of the Delta variant. In addition, an outbreak occurred at the VA Law Enforcement Training Center, the third of its kind during the pandemic.
Last week the NFL said that teams experiencing an outbreak among unvaccinated players could be forced to forfeit games, placing a multimillion-dollar financial incentive on teams and their players to get vaccinated.
Also on Monday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio separately announced that all municipal employees will have to either be vaccinated or undergo weekly Covid-19 testing. That rule goes into effect citywide on Sept. 13, though it kicks in earlier for public health workers and staff in congregate living facilities.
Similarly, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday that all state employees and health care workers will be required to be vaccinated or face regular testing.