ORLANDO, Fla. - The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced on Monday that VA health care personnel will be required to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
The agency said VA employees will have eight weeks to be fully vaccinated from the virus amid concern over a rise in novel coronavirus cases and the highly transmissible delta variant.
"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," Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough said in a press release. "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."
Across the country, health care workers and some state and city employees are being mandated to get COVID-19 vaccines as medical experts fear the current low rates in vaccination could overwhelm the nation’s health care system.
Central Florida veteran Linda Schreiner is applauding the move by the VA. She considers the pandemic as a war at home with those in the hospitals manning the frontlines of the battlefield.
Orlando VA Medical Center at Lake Nona
"They should! They should’ve done it before this," she said. "We served our country. We’re serving our country by taking a shot and doing what we’re supposed to do."
The VA is the first federal agency to mandate the vaccine by requiring all of their staff that provides direct aid to patients to get fully vaccinated in the next eight weeks. Many VA patients are at high risk and just over half of their patients are vaccinated.
"I think it’s a good idea," added another veteran in Central Florida, Sydney Williams. "It really makes sure the spread of COVID is cut down severely."
Having tragically lost tens of thousands of veterans to the virus already, the VA said the mandate is aimed at ensuring the safety of those it serves.
The move by the VA is also to protect their own staff. The agency has lost four employees to COVID-19 recently, all of who were unvaccinated, according to officials. They also have seen an outbreak of the virus in the VA Law Enforcement Training Facility.
The VA said this isn’t the first time it has mandated vaccines as it requires all staff to get the yearly flu vaccine. Other Hospitals in Central Florida like AdventHealth are considering doing the same with their staff but at the moment, a consideration is all it is.
On Monday, dozens of major medical groups called on health care and long-term care employers to require their workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
More than 163 million people, or 49.1% of the total U.S. population, are fully vaccinated, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those eligible for the vaccine, aged 12 and over, the figure rises to 57.4%.
Health officials, including the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, have stressed that soaring virus cases over the past few weeks are being fueled by unvaccinated people and the fast spread of the delta variant.
"We’re going in the wrong direction," Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday on CNN’s "State of the Union," saying he is "very frustrated" at the state of the pandemic.
"This is an issue predominantly among the unvaccinated, which is the reason why we’re out there, practically pleading with the unvaccinated people to go out and get vaccinated," Fauci added.
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