WASHINGTON (AP) — The Department of Veterans Affairs on Monday became the first major federal agency to require health care workers to get COVID-19 vaccines, as the aggressive delta variant spreads and some communities report troubling increases in hospitalizations among unvaccinated people.
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.
At the VA, vaccines will be now mandatory for specified health care personnel — including physicians, dentists, podiatrists, optometrists, registered nurses, physician assistants and others who work in departmental facilities or provide direct care to veterans, said VA Secretary Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough.
Employees will have eight weeks to get vaccinated.
“It’s the best way to keep veterans safe, especially as the delta variant spreads across the country,” McDonough said in a statement. “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,” he added.
On Monday, Vidant Health officials told WNCT’s Amber Joseph, in a statement:
“Vidant Health appreciates the strong stance taken by the North Carolina Healthcare Association, American Hospital Association and Association of American Medical Colleges to support and encourage hospitals and health systems to require team members to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The vaccines are proven to be both safe and effective. Several hospitals and health systems in North Carolina, and many across the nation, have already announced their intentions to require vaccinations of their team members. It is the right thing to do for the safety of all, especially as the variants prove to be more transmissible and severe for those not vaccinated.
“While Vidant has not yet announced a COVID vaccine requirement, our leadership team, in partnership with our infectious disease experts, is urgently discussing when and how we will take this step. As a health care organization that serves and cares for more than 1.4 million people in the East, it is our responsibility to let the science and data drive our decisions and set the example for our communities.”
Atrium Health also released a statement on Monday:
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, Atrium Health has earned the trust of our patients and the communities we are privileged to serve for our COVID-Safe practices, designed to maximize patient safety and limit their potential exposure to the virus. With the new Delta variant being far more potent than the original virus, we view it as essential that each of our teammates receive their vaccination to protect themselves, their families and the people in their care.
“These new variants are contributing to a 200% increase in hospitalizations – and, among our patients, 99% of those hospitalized in recent weeks have been those who are unvaccinated. This further illustrates the effectiveness of the vaccine.
“We have started communicating to all of our teammates (including remote workers, physicians, medical residents, faculty, fellows, trainees, contractors, students/visiting students, members of the medical staff, temporary workers and volunteer staff) that they must be fully vaccinated or have an approved medical or religious exemption. By making the vaccine mandatory for our teammates, Atrium Health, including Wake Forest Baptist Health and Atrium Health Navicent, and along with multiple other health systems across the region, are taking reasonable steps to make sure that our teammates – many of whom remain on the frontlines, interacting directly with people who have COVID – are protected and available to care for members of the community as we deal with the next phases of the pandemic.
“We view this vaccine no differently than our requirement for our teammates to get an annual flu shot, as well as be vaccinated for measles, chicken pox and other infectious diseases. The COVID-19 vaccine is essential to protect the health of our teammates and the communities we serve. We believe it is vital that we maintain the safest possible care environment for our patients and this is a critical component of our ability to remain COVID-Safe in the face of new variants impacting our region.”
The medical and health care groups issuing a call for mandatory vaccines 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.
“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.”