VA mandates COVID-19 vaccinations for health care workers

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FILE – In this March 4, 2021 file photo, Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough speaks during a press briefing at the White House in Washington. The Department of Veterans Affairs on Monday became the first major federal agency to require health care workers to get COVID-19 vaccines. The decision comes as the aggressive delta variant spreads and some communities report troubling increases in hospitalizations among unvaccinated people. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON (AP) — 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 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.

At the VA, vaccines will be now mandatory for specified health care personnel — including physicians, dentists, podiatrists, optometrists, registered nurses, physician assistants and others who work in departmental facilities or provide direct care to veterans, said Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough.

Employees will have eight weeks to get vaccinated.

“It’s the best way to keep veterans safe, especially as the delta variant spreads across the country,” McDonough said in a statement. “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,” he added.

The medical and health care groups issuing a call for mandatory vaccines included the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Nursing, the American Public Health Association and, for the first time, a nursing home industry group. LeadingAge, which represents nonprofit nursing homes and elder care facilities, had previously advocated educating nursing home employees about the benefits of getting their shots.

“Unfortunately, many health care and long-term care personnel remain unvaccinated,” the groups said in a statement. “We stand with the growing number of experts and institutions that support the requirement for universal vaccination of health workers.”

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