The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will require all of its more than 25,000 health care workers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, Secretary Xavier Becerra said Thursday.
“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. “Requiring our HHS health care workforce to get vaccinated will protect our federal workers, as well as the patients and people they serve.”
Surgeon General Vivek Murthy also said members of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps must be vaccinated.
HHS noted that many of its health care workers are already required to be vaccinated against the seasonal flu and are given other routine vaccinations. Existing policies that allow religious or medical exemptions will be followed for the COVID-19 mandate.
The move follows other federal departments requiring vaccination for workers, including the Department of Veterans Affairs. The Pentagon also plans to require vaccination among military members in the coming weeks, a decision that would impact the country’s 1.3 million active-duty troops. In addition, some state and local governments, and a growing number of private employers are requiring vaccination.
President Joe Biden announced last month that all federal employees and contractors must be vaccinated against the coronavirus or face weekly testing and other safety restrictions, reflecting the spread of the highly transmissible delta strain of the virus.
“Right now, too many people are dying or watching someone they love die and say, ‘If I’d just got the vaccine,’” Biden said at the White House last month. “This is an American tragedy. People are dying who don’t have to die.”
Cases of COVID-19 are rising in every state, and hundreds of hospitals, particularly those in regions with lower vaccination rates, have reported running out of beds to treat the severely ill. Almost all deaths in recent weeks are among those who are unvaccinated.
The surge in cases has thrown widely heralded reopening plans into chaos, forcing states like Oregon and Louisiana to reinstitute mask mandates and many schools to reconsider how students are expected to return to the classroom in the fall. Children under the age of 12 are not yet eligible for vaccination, and growing numbers of kids are being hospitalized with the virus.
Vaccines remain the best defense against severe illness and death associated with the disease, including the delta variant. Public health officials have declared this wave of the virus a pandemic of the unvaccinated.
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