The Department of Veterans Affairs on Monday became the first major federal agency to require health care workers to get COVID-19 vaccines, as the aggressive delta variant spreads across the nation and some communities report troubling increases in hospitalizations among unvaccinated people.
The VA's move came on a day when nearly 60 leading medical and health care organizations issued a call for health care facilities to require their workers to get vaccinated. No federal law stands in the way of employers requiring vaccinations, but like mask mandates, the issue has been politicized in a society that's divided on matters of public health.
“With more than 300 million doses administered in the United States and nearly 4 billion doses administered worldwide, we know the vaccines are safe and highly effective at preventing severe illness and death from COVID-19," Dr. Susan Bailey, immediate past president of the American Medical Association, said in a statement. “Increased vaccinations among health care personnel will not only reduce the spread of COVID-19 but also reduce the harmful toll this virus is taking within the health care workforce and those we are striving to serve.”
Although vaccination among physicians is nearly universal — 96% according to an AMA survey — that's not the case for many other people working at health care facilities. In nursing homes, only about 60% of staffers are vaccinated, compared with about 80% of residents, according to recent numbers from Medicare. And COVID-19 cases are rising.
At the VA, vaccines will now be mandatory for certain medical personnel — including physicians, dentists, podiatrists, optometrists, registered nurses, physician assistants and others who work in departmental facilities or provide direct care to veterans, said VA Secretary Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough.
Employees will have eight weeks to be fully vaccinated.