JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for all the federal agency’s health care personnel and is imposing a two-month deadline for those employees to get vaccinated.
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough announced the mandate Monday, saying it applies to all physicians, dentists, podiatrists, optometrists, registered nurses, physician assistants and chiropractors who either work in or visit its health administration facilities, or provide direct care to veterans.
Employees covered by the mandate have eight weeks to get fully vaccinated, according to the VA.
In a statement, McDonough said the mandate for Title 38 employees is the best way to keep veterans safe, particularly given the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant.
“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,” McDonough said. “With this mandate, we can once again make – and keep – that fundamental promise.”
Affected employees can get COVID-19 vaccines at no cost through any of the agency’s facilities. They will receive four hours of paid administrative leave once they’ve provided proof of vaccination.
“I can understand why a hospital system would say, hey, we need to have our people vaccinated because we need them to come in and work to take care of these patients right now,” said Dr. Sunil Joshi, a Jacksonville immunologist.
Earlier Monday, dozens of health care companies and organizations — including the American Medical Association, American Nurses Association, American Hospital Association and the Mayo Clinic, among others — rallied together to publicly back a mandate for health care workers to get vaccinated. The VA cited those organizations’ endorsement of vaccines in its announcement about the new policy.
“The safety and wellbeing of our veterans and personnel is paramount,” said the agency’s statement, which noted that four unvaccinated VA employees have died recently as a result of COVID-19, three of whom had contracted the Delta variant.
The agency also disclosed a recent outbreak that occurred at its law enforcement training facility, which marks the third outbreak the VA has dealt with since the pandemic began.