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VA, HHS to mandate COVID-19 vaccine for most employees

By Jake Thomas & Daniel Uria
VA, HHS to mandate COVID-19 vaccine for most employees
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Health and Human Services announced Thursday that they will soon require most employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19.  File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

Aug. 12 (UPI) -- Most U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Health and Human Services employees will be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine under new mandates announced Thursday.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough announced a broad range of workers, contractors and volunteers who come into contact with patients and healthcare workers will have eight weeks beginning Friday to get the jab under the new mandate.

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Among those included are psychologists, pharmacists, social workers, nursing assistants, physical therapists, engineers, housekeepers, administrative support and other employees.

"This pandemic is not over and VA must do everything in our power to protect Veterans from COVID-19," McDonough said in a news release announcing the requirement. "With this expanded mandate, we can once again make -- and keep -- that fundamental promise."

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All Veterans Affairs employees can get the vaccine for free at any of its facilities and also receive 4 hours of paid administrative leave after proving they'd been inoculated, according to the release.

The new mandate is the latest move by the federal government to increase the number of vaccinated employees.

Last month, McDonough directed physicians, nurses, dentists and chiropractors at the department to get the vaccine. The U.S. military is also planning to roll out a requirement in September for all troops to be vaccinated.

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More than 302,000 Veterans Affairs employees have already been fully vaccinated out of more than 426,000 employees, the agency reports on its website.

It further reported that among Veterans Affairs employees there are 765 active cases of COVID-19, more than 20,000 are recovering and 148 employees have died from the virus, according to Federal News Network.

Previously, McDonough indicated that he was hopeful that granting employee leave to receive and recover from the vaccine would be enough to boost the department's inoculation numbers.

In July, he told the Military Times that increasing vaccinations was an important part of resuming operations at Veterans Affairs hospitals and offices.

Also Thursday, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra announced that more than 25,000 workers at the Indian Health Service and National Institutes of Health who serve in federally operated healthcare and clinical research facilities, and interact with patients including employees, contractors trainees and volunteers will be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy will also immediately require members of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps to receive the vaccine.

"Our number one goal is the health and safety of the American public, including our federal workforce. And vaccines are the best tool we have to protect people from COVID-19, prevent the spread of the Delta variant and save lives," Becerra said.

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The moves by the two federal agencies come after President Joe Biden last month issued a mandate stating that every federal employee will be asked to attest to their vaccination status and those who refuse or are not fully vaccinated will be required to wear masks no matter where they work, get tested for the virus twice a week, socially distance and "generally will not be allowed to travel to work."

On Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said he believes full federal approval of the COVID-19 vaccines, which he said he hoped would be granted this month, will "empower" further vaccine mandates.

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