Health and Human Services (HHS) nominee Xavier Becerra attends his Senate Finance Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 24, 2021.
Michael Reynolds | Pool | Reuters
The Department of Health and Human Services is mandating Covid-19 vaccine shots for the agency’s more than 25,000 employees, becoming the latest government agency to require immunizations in response to the delta variant’s global surge.
The mandate announced Thursday by HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra applies to the Indian Health Service, National Institutes of Health and U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps — three agencies overseen by the department — and employees who engage with patients in federal medical or clinical research facilities.
“The majority of those workers are already vaccinated,” Becerra said Thursday in an interview with MSNBC’s Craig Melvin. “We’re just now saying to them, for purposes of public health and safety, their safety, the people they come in contact with, their safety, we want to make sure they’re all vaccinated.”
Members of the Commissioned Corps must also get immunized against the virus in case they are called into active service as emergency personnel. The new mandate will follow the agency’s existing exemptions for religious and medical reasons for their required vaccinations against influenza and other diseases.
“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 from HHS.
The decision comes just days after the Pentagon issued a Covid vaccine mandate for all service members to get immunized by the middle of September. The Department of Veterans Affairs became last month the first major federal agency to enact a Covid vaccine mandate for health-care personnel.
President Joe Biden also announced July 29 a vaccine requirement for all federal workers, giving them the alternative of taking weekly coronavirus tests rather than submitting proof of vaccination. HHS did not specify if employees could opt to get tested regularly for the coronavirus instead of getting vaccinated.
Corporate executives are increasingly embracing vaccine mandates as well. Companies, including Google, Facebook, United Airlines, and Tyson Foods, now require that part or all of their staff get vaccinated, citing the latest increases in coronavirus case counts across the United States.