VA Issues New Rules Regarding Mandatory Vaccination

August 27, 2021

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(This article first appeared in the September-October issue of the American Postal Worker magazine)

On July 26, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) became the first Federal Agency to require the COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of employment. VA Secretary Denis McDonough announced that the COVID-19 vaccine was mandatory for Title 38 VA health care personnel — including physicians, dentists, podiatrists, optometrists, registered nurses, physician assistants, expanded-function dental auxiliaries and chiropractors — who work in Veterans Health Administration facilities, visit VHA facilities or provide direct care to those the VA serves.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said current federal laws do not prevent an employer from requiring employees physically entering the workplace to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has heavily promoted vaccinations as a way to slow the pandemic and save lives. However, at this point, the CDC has not recommended that state or local officials, or employers, mandate vaccinations for their employees. With COVID-19 case counts rising amid the spread of the Delta variant, 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. While there are no federal laws that stand in the way of employers requiring vaccinations, like mask mandates, the issue has been politicized in a society that’s divided on matters of public health.

Nonetheless, the VA’s decision is supported by numerous medical organizations including the American Hospital Association, America’s Essential Hospitals and a multisociety group of the leading Infectious Disease Societies. The American Medical Association, American Nurses Association, American College of Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, Association of American Medical Colleges, and National Association for Home Care and Hospice have also endorsed mandating COVID-19 vaccination for health care workers.

The endorsements of mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for health care workers aims to protect the safety of patients and residents of long-term care facilities and make the health care sector a leader in COVID-19 vaccination, just as cases, hospitalizations and deaths are once again rising throughout the United States.

“With more than 300 million doses administered in the United States and nearly 4 billion doses administered worldwide, we know the vaccines are safe and highly effective at preventing severe illness and death from COVID-19,” Dr. Susan Bailey, immediate past president of the American Medical Association, said in a statement. “Increased vaccinations among health care personnel will not only reduce the spread of COVID-19 but also reduce the harmful toll this virus is taking within the health care workforce and those we are striving to serve.”

Although vaccination among physicians is nearly universal — 96 percent according to an AMA survey — that’s not the case for many other people working at health care facilities. In nursing homes, only about 60 percent of staffers are vaccinated, compared with about 80 percent of residents, according to recent numbers from Medicare.

COVID-19 cases are rising. In recent weeks leading up to the decision, the VA had lost four employees to COVID-19 — all of whom were unvaccinated. At least three of those employees died because of the increasingly prevalent Delta variant. There has also been an outbreak among unvaccinated employees and trainees at a VA Law Enforcement Training Center, the third such outbreak during the pandemic.

All VA employees are eligible to be vaccinated at no personal expense at any of the VA facilities. Employees also receive four hours of paid administrative leave after demonstrating they have been vaccinated. Employees will have eight weeks to be fully vaccinated.

VA has repeatedly stated that the safety and wellbeing of veterans and their personnel is paramount. The American Postal Workers Union continues to encourage its members to get vaccinated, and has encouraged the Postal Service to negotiate with the union over any mask and/or vaccination requirements.

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