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U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs issues vaccination mandate for healthcare workers

Christian Fernsby |
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced Monday that it will require the agency's frontline healthcare workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19, making it the first federal agency to mandate compulsory inoculation.

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Announced by Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough, the order will make full vaccination mandatory for VA healthcare personnel - including physicians, dentists, podiatrists, optometrists, registered nurses, physician assistants and some experts - who work in Veterans Health Administration (VHA) facilities, visit VHA facilities or provide direct care to those VA serves, according to a press release issued by the agency.

"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. "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."

According to The New York Times, which first reported the news, McDonough said the employees have eight weeks beginning Wednesday to get fully vaccinated, or they will face penalties including possibly being removed from their jobs at the agency.

The VA said in the press release that four of its employees died of COVID-19 in recent weeks.

President Joe Biden confirmed the new requirement when asked about it during a meeting with Iraqi prime minister. "Yes, Veterans Affairs is going to in fact require that all doctors working in facilities are going to have to be vaccinated," the president said.

The VA is one of the largest federal employers in the United States, housing the biggest integrated health care system in the country and serving over 9 million enrolled veterans.

As the more transmissible Delta variant continues its rampant spread in the United States, a slew of major medical groups in the United States urged in a joint statement Monday that all healthcare workers in the country should be vaccinated.

"Because of highly contagious variants, including the Delta variant, and significant numbers of unvaccinated people, COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are once again rising throughout the United States. Vaccination is the primary way to put the pandemic behind us and avoid the return of stringent public health measures," read the statement.

The pandemic has killed over 611,000 people in the United States as of Monday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. And the spread of the Delta variant is taking a particularly devastating toll on the unvaccinated.

The Biden administration has been struggling to convince those resisting vaccination to get their jabs, as the rate of the fully vaccinated population remains largely stalled, standing at 49.1 percent, according to data updated Monday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On Sunday, Anthony Fauci, the country's top infectious disease expert, described himself as being "very frustrated" over the current situation of the pandemic. He said the United States is in an "unnecessary predicament" of soaring case counts, and that the country is "going in the wrong direction."

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