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Department of Veterans Affairs requiring all medical staff to get vaccinated

Washington — The Department of Veterans Affairs is requiring all medical personnel to get vaccinated against COVID-19, the first federal agency-wide mandate of its kind. The requirement comes as the highly contagious Delta variant sweeps the nation and accounts for the vast majority of COVID cases. 

Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough announced Monday he will make all health care personnel — including dentists, registered nurses, physician assistants, chiropractors and many others — who work in Veterans Health Administration facilities, visit those facilities, or provide direct care to VA patients to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Employees will have eight weeks to get vaccinated. 

"We're mandating vaccines for Title 38 employees because it's the best way to keep Veterans safe, especially as the Delta variant spreads across the country," McDonough said. "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."

The announcement comes the same day as a slew of major medical groups said in a joint statement that all U.S. health care workers should be required to get vaccinated against COVID-19. They argued the health and safety of the nation depends on such mandates to reign in a pandemic that has killed nearly 611,000 Americans. 

President Biden confirmed the new requirement when asked about it during a meeting with Iraq's prime minister. 

"Yes, Veterans Affairs is going to in fact require, that all doctors working in facilities are going to have to be vaccinated," the president said. 

The VA has roughly 1,000 outpatient sites, and scores of VA Medical Centers, serving more than 9 million enrolled veterans. The department is the first federal agency to make such a sweeping requirement for employees. 

On Monday, a slew of major medical groups said that all U.S. health care workers should be required to get vaccinated, arguing the health and safety of the nation depends on such mandates to reign in the pandemic.

The VA noted that in recent weeks, it has lost four employees to COVID-19, all of whom were unvaccinated. The VA said at least three of those four were infected with the Delta variant. 

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has determined that private employers are allowed to require the COVID-19 vaccine for employees. 

Vaccine requirements at some hospitals have sparked backlash, including at a hospital in Texas where a small percentage of employees refused the vaccine. So far, the courts have ruled in the hospital's favor

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