Coronavirus: VA requiring vaccinations for health care workers

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs on Monday announced that COVID-19 vaccines will be mandatory for most of its health care workers in an effort to curb the spread of the virus and its highly-transmissible delta variant.

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Department officials said employees, including physicians, dentists, podiatrists, optometrists, registered nurses, physician assistants, expanded-function dental auxiliaries and chiropractors, will have eight weeks to comply.

In a statement released Monday, Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough said officials chose to mandate vaccines for employees “because it’s the best way to keep Veterans safe, especially as the Delta variant spreads across the country.”

“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,” he said.

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Officials said that in recent weeks, four VA employees have died of COVID-19. All of the employees were unvaccinated and at least three had died because of the delta variant, authorities said.

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. The group 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.

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“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.”

In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom also announced Monday that health care workers across the state will be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

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Nationwide, 69% of all adults have received at least one vaccine dose as of Sunday, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 50% of the total U.S. population has been fully vaccinated.

The United States leads the world with the most coronavirus cases and the highest death toll. Since the start of the pandemic, officials have confirmed more than 34.4 million infections and reported more than 611,000 deaths nationwide, according to numbers compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

More than 194.5 million COVID-19 cases have been reported worldwide, resulting in 4.1 million deaths, according to Johns Hopkins.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.