A number of employees with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) were told Monday they must get the COVID-19 vaccine or be fired.
The VA announced a vaccine mandate for all Title 38 health care personnel, which includes “physicians, dentists, podiatrists, optometrists, registered nurses, physician assistants, expanded-function dental auxiliaries and chiropractors,” according to the Department. Employees ordered to get the vaccine will have eight weeks to become fully vaccinated or face termination.
“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,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a press release. “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.”
The VA is the first federal agency to mandate employees get vaccinated or be fired. The new requirement will affect roughly 115,000 VA employees who work in “Veterans Health Administration facilities, visit VHA facilities or provide direct care to those VA serves,” the announcement said.
The press release also noted the Delta variant of COVID-19, which has taken the lives of three unvaccinated VA employees. An additional unvaccinated employee also died due to COVID-19. In addition to the deaths, the VA said, there has been “an outbreak among unvaccinated employees and trainees at a VA Law Enforcement Training Center, the third such outbreak during the pandemic.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that President Joe Biden supports the VA mandate and suggested others might enact their own mandates as well.
“These actions, in our view, are meant to keep patients and employees safe, and in fact I expect our own federal health care providers may look at similar requirements, as they do with other vaccines,” Psaki said.
Also on Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D-CA) office announced that all state employees and health care workers in the state must show proof of vaccination or submit to weekly COVID-19 tests beginning in August. The new mandate affects millions of public- and private-sector health care workers and about 246,000 state employees. Newsom compared people who have so far refused to get the vaccine to drunk drivers.
“We’re at a point in this epidemic, this pandemic where individuals’ choice not to get vaccinated is now impacting the rest of us in a profound and devastating and deadly way,” Newsom said. “You don’t have the choice to go out and drink and drive and put everyone else’s lives at risk. That’s the equivalent of this moment with the deadliness and efficiency of the Delta virus.”
New York City’s vaccine requirement was also recently expanded to include the city’s 340,000 employees — including teachers and police officers — as well as health care workers.
The vaccines for COVID-19 have been given emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).