HHS the latest agency to mandate COVID vaccinations for health care workers

HHS chief Becerra claims vaccine status is ‘government business’

Fox News correspondent Jacqui Heinrich discusses the Biden Administration’s vaccination push on ‘Special Report’

The Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday announced it will require its health care workforce to be vaccinated against COVID-19, the latest federal agency to issue a vaccine mandate with cases of the more transmissible delta variant on the rise.

Also on Thursday, the Department of Veterans Affairs expanded its vaccine mandate to include most Veterans Health Administration employees, volunteers and contractors.

The HHS decision will affect more than 25,000 federal workers, the department said.

“Our number one goal is the health and safety of the American public, including our federal workforce, and vaccines are the best tool we have to protect people from COVID-19, prevent the spread of the delta variant and save lives,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said Thursday. 

“As President Biden has said, we are looking at every way we can to increase vaccinations to keep more people safe, and requiring our HHS health care workforce to get vaccinated will protect our federal workers, as well as the patients and people they serve.”

The agency said that staff at the Indian Health Service and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), who serve in federally operated health care and clinical research facilities and interact with, or have the potential to come into contact with, patients, will be required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. 

The list of staff required to receive the vaccination includes employees, contractors, trainees and volunteers whose duties put them in contact with patents at any HHS medical or clinical research facilities.

HHS also announced Thursday that U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy will “immediately” require members of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as part of “medical readiness procedures to prepare for any potential deployment need as emergency responders.” 

Veterans Affairs was the first federal agency last month to make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for all VA health care personnel, including physicians, dentists, nurses and others who work in patient-facing roles. 

Last week, the Pentagon announced it would require members of the U.S. military to get COVID-19 vaccines by Sept. 15, according to a memo sent by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. 

“I will seek the president’s approval to make the vaccines mandatory no later than mid-September, or immediately upon [Food and Drug Administration approval], whichever comes first,” Austin said in the memo, which went out to troops on Monday.

“I will not hesitate to act sooner or recommend a different course to the president if l feel the need to do so,” Austin added. “To defend this nation, we need a healthy and ready force.”

The Pfizer vaccine is expected to be fully approved by the FDA in early September. Should that not happen, and it remain in emergency use authorization status, Austin could seek a presidential waiver to require troops to get the vaccine.

According to the Associated Press, troops already have to receive as many as 17 vaccines, depending on where they are in the world.

So far, more than 74% of the Navy have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Other branches of the military lag behind, with 65% of active duty Air Force members and 60% of Air Force reserves having had at least one shot. In the Army, that number is closer to 50%, the AP reported.

Unvaccinated troops currently have to follow protocols that include wearing masks, maintaining social distance and abiding by travel restrictions.

Meanwhile, states like California and New York have also issued mandates for state employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Despite some concern over vaccine mandates, the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel last month determined that federal law does not prohibit public agencies and private businesses from requiring COVID-19 vaccines that are under emergency use authorization (EUA). 

The opinion notes that some have questioned whether those entities can lawfully impose such requirements. 

In the opinion, the DOJ Office of Legal Counsel says the law concerning emergency use authorizations “does not prohibit public or private entities from imposing vaccine requirements, even when the only vaccines available are those authorized under EUAs.”

Fox News’ Ronn Blitzer, Lucas Tomlinson, and the Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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