In a first for a federal agency, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced on Monday it will mandate that 115,000 of its frontline healthcare employees receive the COVID-19 vaccine over the next eight weeks, The New York Times reports.
The requirement will apply to those who are "the most patient-facing," including doctors, dentists, registered nurses, physician assistants and some specialists, per the Times. Violation penalties include possible removal.
"I am doing this because it's the best way to keep our veterans safe, full stop," Denis McDonough, the secretary of veterans affairs, told the Times. The department is "one of the largest federal employers and is the biggest integrated health care system in the country." Its decision is a reflection of a "growing consensus among private sector employees, health care centers, and state and local governments" to "test the legal waters" on vaccine mandates as the Delta variant spreads, writes the Times.
Although approximately 70 percent of department health care center workers are fully vaccinated, McDonough has recently expressed fears that facilities "with low vaccination rates are risking the health of veterans seeking care," per the Times.
"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," McDonough said in a press release.
Earlier on Monday, a number of different medical groups issued a statement calling on health and long-term care employees to require COVID-19 vaccination, The Washington Post reports, because "the health and safety of U.S. workers, families, communities, and the nation depends on it."