V.A. Issues Vaccine Mandate for Health Care Workers, a First for a Federal Agency

Employees who provide direct patient care have eight weeks to get inoculated against the coronavirus or face penalties including possible removal.


By Jennifer Steinhauer

WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs will require 115,000 of its frontline health care workers to be vaccinated against the coronavirus in the next two months, making it the first federal agency to mandate that employees be inoculated, government officials said on Monday.

The move comes as concern is growing that the substantial portion of the population that has not been vaccinated is contributing to the rapid spread of the highly contagious Delta variant. While it was a sharp departure from the Biden administration’s reluctance to embrace mandates, it was part of a broader shift in which New York City, many hospital chains and some private employers are deciding that the time has come to make being vaccinated a requirement.

“I am doing this because it’s the best way to keep our veterans safe, full stop,” Denis McDonough, the secretary of veterans affairs, said in a telephone interview on Monday. The department is one of the largest federal employers and is the biggest integrated health care system in the country.

The mandate will apply to workers who are “the most patient-facing,” Mr. McDonough said, including doctors, dentists, registered nurses, physician assistants and some specialists. Beginning on Wednesday, those health care workers will have eight weeks to get fully vaccinated or face penalties including possible removal, he said.

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, reiterated the Biden administration’s position on Friday that mandating vaccinations was a decision for private sector companies and local communities. But the decision at the department reflects a growing consensus among private sector employers, health care centers, and state and local governments to test the legal waters on vaccine requirements as cases rise sharply around the nation.

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