Coronavirus: VA expanding vaccination mandate to more employees

WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs will require that most Veterans Health Administration employees get vaccinated against COVID-19, officials announced Thursday, an expansion of a previous vaccine mandate aimed at protecting veterans as the delta variant fuels a surge in COVID-19 cases across the country.

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The expanded mandate will go into effect Friday and include Hybrid Title 38 and Title 5 VA health care personnel, including psychologists, pharmacists, social workers, physical therapists, engineers, housekeepers and other employees, volunteers and contractors who encounter VA patients and health care workers as part of their duties, officials said.

“We’re now including most VHA employees and volunteers and contractors in the vaccine mandate because it remains the best way to keep veterans safe, especially as the delta variant spreads across the country,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said Thursday in a statement. “This pandemic is not over and (the) VA must do everything in our power to protect veterans from COVID-19.”

The VA last month became the first federal agency to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations among its employees. In an appearance Thursday on “CBS This Morning,” McDonough said that initial effort led to a doubling in the rate of vaccinations seen in previously unvaccinated employees.

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“Based on that, we’ve decided that we’ll start tomorrow expanding the vaccination requirement to 245,000 additional employees, about 110,000 of (which) we believe still need the vaccination,” he said. “This is the best way to protect our veteran patients in the VA system. They’ve given so much to this country, they ought to have the confidence that when they come into a VA. hospital, they’re going to be safe.”

Under the mandate, employees will have eight weeks to provide officials with proof of their vaccinations.

“The most important thing each of us can do – whether you work at the VA or work somewhere else, to protect our veterans, these heroes who have given so much to our country – the most important thing you can do is get yourself vaccinated,” McDonough said on “CBS This Morning.”

“That will protect our veterans who have complicated healthcare situations, who have more co-morbidities because of the great sacrifices they’ve made on behalf of this country. So, if you want to protect veterans, go get vaccinated.”

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More than 302,600 of the 426,000 people employed by the VA have so far been vaccinated, Stars and Stripes reported, citing data from the agency. Nationally, just over 50% of all Americans have been fully vaccinated, according to the latest data available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Since the start of the pandemic, nearly 36.2 million COVID-19 cases have been reported across the U.S., resulting in about 618,500 deaths, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University. Globally, 204.9 million people have been diagnosed with COVID-19, resulting in 4.3 million deaths, according to Johns Hopkins.