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Nearly 300,000 More Federal Health Workers Are Ordered To Be Vaccinated

The federal government is dramatically expanding the number of its workers that will be required to be vaccinated for COVID-19.

More than 25,000 employees of the Health and Human Services Department will be required to get a COVID-19 vaccine and the Department of Veterans Affairs is expanding its vaccine requirement to more employees, contractors and volunteers, the agencies announced.

VA Secretary Denis McDonough told CBS This Morning that the updated mandate at his agency will affect 245,000 employees, in addition to 115,000 previously ordered to be vaccinated.

At HHS, workers at the Indian Health Service and the National Institutes of Health who come into contact, or have the potential to come into contact, with patients will be affected by the new vaccination requirement. Members of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps will also be included in case they are deployed for emergency purposes, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said Thursday.

"Our number one goal is the health and safety of the American public, including our federal workforce, " HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement.

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

Nearly a third of HHS employees will be covered by the new requirement, though medical and religious exemptions from getting the vaccine are allowed. There is already a requirement in place to receive the flu vaccine and other routine vaccinations, so the process of mandating the COVID-19 vaccine is already in place.

The Department of Veterans Affairs' expanded mandate, which takes effect Friday, will require vaccines for more employees, including psychologists, pharmacists, social workers, engineers, housekeepers and others who come into contact with patients and health care workers.

The Department of Defense also recently announced plans to require the vaccine for its staff and service members. Already, about 73% of active-duty service members have received at least one dose and 62% are fully vaccinated, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Deepa Shivaram is a multi-platform political reporter on NPR's Washington Desk.