VA issues vaccine mandate for health care workers, first for a federal agency

VA issues vaccine mandate for health care workers, first for a federal agency

WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs will need to vaccinate 115,000 of its frontline health care workers against the coronavirus over the next two months, making it the first federal agency to vaccinate employees, government officials said on Monday. Said.

The move comes as there is growing concern that the large portion of the population that has not been vaccinated is contributing to the rapid spread of the highly contagious delta variant. While it was a sharp departure from the Biden administration’s reluctance to adopt the mandate, it was part of a broader shift in which New York City, several hospital chains and some private employers are deciding it is time to make vaccination a requirement. Is.

“I’m doing this because it’s the best way to keep our veterans safe,” Veterans Affairs Secretary Dennis McDonough said in a telephone interview Monday. The department is one of the largest federal employers and has the largest integrated health care system in the country.

Mr McDonough said the mandate would apply to workers who are “the most patient-facing”, including doctors, dentists, registered nurses, medical assistants and some specialists. He said that starting Wednesday, those health care workers will have eight weeks to fully vaccinate or face penalties including possible expulsion.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki reiterated the Biden administration’s position on Friday that making vaccinations mandatory was a decision for private sector companies and local communities. But the department’s decision reflects a growing consensus among private sector employers, health care centers and state and local governments to test the legal waters on vaccine requirements as cases rapidly rise across the country.

In New York on Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said all municipal workers would be required to be vaccinated against the coronavirus until schools reopen in September or face weekly testing. California announced a similar measure, which will be implemented by August 23 for all state employees and on-site public and private health care workers.

President Biden may legally require members of the military to be vaccinated, but so far he has refused to exercise that power. Military officials, while frustrated with some service members’ refusal to vaccinate, have said their hands remain tied until vaccines receive formal approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

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Mr McDonough said he had informed the White House of his decision.

Scores of hospitals and health care systems have forced their employees to get vaccinated, and recent court rulings have upheld employers’ rights to require vaccinations. In June, a federal judge in Texas dismissed a lawsuit brought by Houston Methodist Hospital workers who challenged the hospital’s coronavirus vaccination requirement.

In recent weeks, there have been outbreaks of coronavirus among staff members at Veterans Affairs health care centers in Little Rock, Ark., Baltimore, Orlando, Fla., and Chicago, leading to staff shortages and in some cases departments. forced to take emergency measures.

Roughly 70 percent of workers in the department’s health care centers have been fully vaccinated, which is well above the national average, but not enough to satisfy authorities in light of the dangers to the elderly, who are aged, ill. and possibly fall prey to disease. “Our physicians are arguing that we need a higher number than this,” McDonough said.

He has repeatedly expressed fears in recent weeks that centers with low vaccination rates are putting the health of caregivers at risk. He said he did not know whether any elderly people had been made ill by workers in health care centres. So far, 12,679 veterans, including 146 department employees and 4,237 patients, have died of complications related to the coronavirus.

Like many state and local governments, the department recently struck an agreement with its employees’ union to give employees four hours of paid administrative leave if they prove they’ve been fully vaccinated. . “It was a worthwhile step,” McDonough said. “But I think again given what we’re seeing now as it relates to trend lines in the disease, this is the next meaningful step.”

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Other nations are generally looking at mandates to increase vaccine acceptance. In France, parliament this week approved a law that requires “health passes” that provide proof of full vaccination, recent negative test or recent recovery from COVID-19 to enter restaurants or bars and travel long distances. Shows to visit.

Greece made vaccines mandatory for all hospital workers in mid-July and banned entry to indoor restaurants, bars and movie theaters leading to protests against vaccinations. Italy is also moving forward with the vaccine mandate.

Workers in the Department of Veterans Affairs will be able to appeal a vaccine mandate and receive due process based on medical or religious reasons, and it is possible that others will oppose it. “I don’t know what to expect here,” said Mr McDonough. “What I know is basically the most important step forward for us in terms of increasing experiential patient safety.”

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