The Biden administration has been reluctant to back vaccine mandates, instead noting that it plans to follow guidelines laid out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and saying it’s up to private companies and local communities to implement these measures. The VA is issuing a vaccine mandate for 115,000 of its frontline health care workers.
“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,” Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough said in a statement released by the agency.
“I believe the mandate is the correct and necessary move. The Delta variant, which is believed to be more transmissible, currently makes up 83% of new COVID-19 cases and is worrying officials,” he told the New York Times.
Beginning Wednesday, workers will have eight weeks to get fully vaccinated. If the employees don’t comply, they could be removed from their job, according to McDonough.
On Monday President Biden was asked by NBC News’ Kelly O’Donnell about the VA’s mandate during a meeting in the White House Oval Office with Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.
“You are such a pain in the neck. But I’m going to answer your question because we’ve known each other for so long. It has nothing to do with Iraq,” the president shot back.
“I’ll answer your question: Yes, Veteran Affairs is going to in fact require that all Docs working in facilities are going to have to be vaccinated,” Biden said.
Asked whether the president would move to require federal agencies and institutions to begin mandated vaccination programs as fewer people are getting the shots, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, “Any decision would be based on science, not politics.”
“We do not want to look at our objective of getting more people vaccinated through a political prism. We don’t. And the president certainly recognizes that he is not always the right voice to every community about the benefits of getting vaccinated, which is why we have invested as much as we have in local voices, and empowering local trusted voices,” she said.