VA becomes first government agency to mandate vaccines for its frontline workers

The VA is moving ahead on the question of government mandated vaccine requirements

Updated: July 26, 2021 - 3:18pm

The Department of Veterans Affairs will require all 115,000 of its frontline health care workers to receive coronavirus vaccines over the next eight weeks, becoming the first federal agency to insist that its employees be immunized. 

The mandate arrives as concern mounts that the unvaccinated faction of the U.S. population is contributing to the spread of the fast-moving delta variant os the virus. It will apply to employees of the agency including doctors, dentists, nurses, physician assistants and a number of specialists. 

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough says he has alerted the White House of his decision, adding that he made it "because it's the best way to keep our veterans safe, full stop." 

Representatives of the Biden administration have repeatedly, and as recently as Friday, iterated that the administration believes mandates are a decision to be made by private sector companies and communities at a local level.

Testing that proclamation, on Monday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the city's roughly 340,000 municipal workers will be required to receive an inoculation by the time schools reopen in September, or be subject to weekly testing.

McDonough's announcement follows weeks of breakout infections among VA staff members at care centers in Baltimore, Chicago, Orlando, Fla., and Little Rock, Arkansas.

Though the 70% of employees at VA care centers who have been vaccinated falls significantly above the national average, the clusters of staff impacted by the virus have caused staff shortages, sometimes causing the department to invoke emergency planning measures. 

"Our clinicians are arguing that we do need a higher number than that," said McDonough, emphasizing that veterans in need of care tend to be older, sicker, and likely more susceptible to illness than other parts of the population. 

Many hospital networks and health care systems have already implemented vaccine mandates for their employees, and several recent court decisions have supported their right to do so. Earlier this month, a federal judge also ruled that Indiana University had the legal right to require students to be vaccinated as well.