Amid a nationwide spike in COVID-19 cases due to the Delta variant, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced today that all healthcare staff will be required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. The VA is the first Federal agency to mandate its personnel receive the vaccine, though other agencies have publicly encouraged their staff to be vaccinated.
In a press release, the VA said that healthcare personnel – which includes physicians, dentists, podiatrists, optometrists, registered nurses, physician assistants, expanded-function dental auxiliaries, and chiropractors – have eight weeks to be fully vaccinated.
The mandate impacts medical staff who work in Veterans Health Administration (VHA) facilities, visit VHA facilities, or provide direct care to those VA serves.
“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,” said VA Secretary Denis McDonough. “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.”
All VA employees can receive the vaccine for free at any VA facility. As an incentive to vaccinate, all VA employees, including those not impacted by the vaccine mandate, will receive four hours of paid administrative leave after demonstrating they have been vaccinated.
In a press release, the VA said it has lost four employees to COVID-19 in recent weeks, all of whom were unvaccinated. Additionally, there was an outbreak among unvaccinated employees and trainees at a VA Law Enforcement Training Center – the third such outbreak during the pandemic.
The announcement comes after Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va., Tim Kaine, D-Va., Ben Cardin, D-Md., Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, reintroduced the Chai Suthammanont Remembrance Act on July 14. The legislation requires government agencies to establish COVID-19 safety plans to protect Federal workers returning to the office.
The bill requires that all safety plans include coronavirus testing for Federal employees and contractors, contact tracing and notification processes for suspected positive cases, vaccine administration, cleaning protocols, personal protective equipment provided by the agency, methods to protect employees required to travel, contingency plans for a possible surge in cases, and the information to contact inspector generals to report any issues.
This version of the bill states that safety plans must include a description of protocols on whether employees who are required to be physically present must be fully vaccinated.