HHS mandates Covid-19 vaccinations for health care workforce

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The Department of Health and Human Services is requiring all of its front-facing health care employees to get vaccinated against Covid-19, making it the second federal department to mandate vaccinations for a portion of its workforce.

The policy announced Thursday will apply to more than 25,000 officials under HHS’ sprawling umbrella, including staff at the Indian Health Services and National Institutes of Health who operate health and clinical research facilities or could come into contact with patients.

The U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, which consists of more than 6,000 health workers who respond to public health crises around the country, will also be included under the mandate.

“Our number one goal is the health and safety of the American public, including our federal workforce, and the vaccines are the best tool we have to protect people from Covid-19, prevent the spread of the Delta variant and save lives,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said.

The department’s approach mirrors the vaccine mandate rolled out by the Department of Veterans Affairs in late July, after Biden administration lawyers determined it was legal for private businesses and public agencies to require Covid-19 vaccinations.

The Department of Defense recently signaled plans to require service members to get the vaccine as well, amid a coronavirus resurgence driven by the Delta variant. Nationwide, daily new cases have skyrocketed in the last month, reaching levels not seen since early February.

The HHS mandate will also apply to contractors, trainees and volunteers whose responsibilities put them in potential contact with patients at a federal medical or clinical research facility. An HHS official told POLITICO that the department estimates 20 to 30 percent of the population covered by the mandate is currently unvaccinated, based on those who voluntarily reported their status.

Still, the requirements ultimately cover just a fraction of the department’s entire workforce, which totals more than 80,000 employees across 11 operating divisions.

The rest will be subject to a government-wide policy that requires workers to get vaccinated or submit to a slew of precautions, including regular Covid-19 testing, mask-wearing and travel restrictions.

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