HHS to mandate vaccinations for more than 25,000 employees

As the delta variant spreads nationwide, the Department of Health and Human Services will require vaccination from more than 25,000 of its employees that directly work with patients, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra announced Thursday.

Going a step beyond the general guidelines for the federal workforce — which is to get vaccinated or be required to wear a mask and do frequent testing — the Department of Health and Human Services is mandating the vaccine for its employees who deal directly with patients. The Department of Veterans Affairs has called for the same policy for the majority of its employees, including all healthcare workers.

“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,” Becerra said in a statement Thursday.

“Instructing our HHS health care workforce to get vaccinated will protect our federal workers and the patients and people they serve,” Becerra said.

The roughly 25,000 HHS employees will have until the end of September to be vaccinated, an HHS official said.

The 25,000 HHS employees who will be required to get vaccinated are concentrated within the Indian Health Service and National Institute of Health.

“Staff at the Indian Health Service (IHS) and 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,” HHS said in a statement.

All U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, a program run by the US surgeon general, will also be required to get vaccinated “as part of medical readiness procedures to prepare for any potential deployment need as emergency responders,” HHS said.

The department will allow exemptions for religious or medical reasons.

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