Veterans Affairs to mandate COVID vaccine for health care personnel, first such mandate for federal agency

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Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough on Monday made COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for all VA health care personnel, the first such mandate by a federal agency.

The mandate includes physicians, dentists, nurses and others who work in patient-facing roles.

The VA said it was taking this “necessary step” to keep the veterans it serves “safe.” The VA said each employee will have eight weeks to be fully vaccinated.

“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,” McDonough said Monday. 

Secretary of Veterans Affairs nominee Denis McDonough is sworn in during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021, in Washington. (Leigh Vogel/Pool via AP)

“Whenever a Veteran or a 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,” he continued. “With this mandate, we can once again make—and keep—that fundamental promise.” 

An administration official stressed the importance of the move, saying it was imperative for patients to feel safe and not risk getting COVID from their health care providers. At this point, the Department of Veterans Affairs is the only federal agency that will require some employees to be vaccinated.

The announcement comes after the VA lost four employees to COVID-19 in recent weeks. All four were unvaccinated. The agency said that at least three of the employees died due to the delta variant of the novel coronavirus. 

The announcement also comes amid an outbreak among unvaccinated employees and trainees at a VA Law Enforcement Training Center, which the VA says it the third such outbreak during the pandemic.

The agency stressed Monday that all VA employees are eligible to be vaccinated “at no personal expense at any of our facilities.”

The department said that employees would also receive four hours of paid administrative leave after demonstrating that they have been vaccinated. 

“The safety and wellbeing of our Veterans and personnel is paramount,” the VA said in a statement Monday. 

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