July 27, 2021 -- The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the state of California, and New York City announced Monday that employees will be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in coming months -- or, in the case of California and New York City, undergo regular testing.
The VA becomes the first federal agency to mandate COVID vaccinations for workers. In a news release, VA Secretary Denis McDonough said the mandate is “the best way to keep Veterans safe, especially as the Delta variant spreads across the country.”
VA health care personnel -- including doctors, dentists, podiatrists, optometrists, registered nurses, physician assistants, and chiropractors -- have 8 weeks to become fully vaccinated, the news release said. The New York Times reported that about 115,000 workers will be affected.
The Monday trifecta of federal-state-municipal vaccine requirements arrived as the nation searches for ways to get more people vaccinated to tamp down the Delta variant.
Some organizations, including the military, have already said vaccinations will be required as soon as the FDA formally approves the vaccines, which are now given under emergency use authorizations. The FDA has said the Pfizer vaccine could receive full approval within months.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom said the requirements he announced Monday were the first in the nation on the state level.
“As the state’s largest employer, we are leading by example and requiring all state and health care workers to show proof of vaccination or be tested regularly, and we are encouraging local governments and businesses to do the same,” he said in a news release.
California employees must provide proof of vaccination or get tested at least once a week. The policy starts Aug. 2 for state employees and Aug. 9 for state health care workers and employees of congregate facilities, such as jails or homeless shelters.
California, especially the southern part of the state, is grappling with a COVID-19 surge. The state’s daily case rate more than quadrupled, from a low of 1.9 cases per 100,000 in May to at least 9.5 cases per 100,000 today, the release said.
In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio had previously announced that city health and hospital employees and those working in Department of Health and Mental Hygiene clinical settings would be required to provide proof of vaccination or have regular testing.
On Monday he expanded the rule to cover all city employees, with a Sept. 13 deadline for most of them, according to a news release.
"This is what it takes to continue our recovery for all of us while fighting back the Delta variant," de Blasio said. "It’s going to take all of us to finally end the fight against COVID-19."
“We have a moral responsibility to take every precaution possible to ensure we keep ourselves, our colleagues and loved ones safe,” NYC Health + Hospitals President and CEO Mitchell Katz, MD, said in the release. “Our city’s new testing requirement for city workers provides more [peace] of mind until more people get their safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine.”
NBC News reported the plan would affect about 340,000 employees.