VA mandates COVID-19 vaccine for medical employees, staff

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced on Monday that VA health care personnel will be required to get vaccinated against COVID-19. 

The agency said VA employees will have eight weeks to be fully vaccinated from the virus amid concern over a rise in novel coronavirus cases and the highly transmissible delta variant.

"We’re mandating vaccines for Title 38 employees because it’s the best way to keep Veterans safe, especially as the Delta variant spreads across the country," Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough said in a press release. "Whenever a Veteran or VA employee sets foot in a VA facility, they deserve to know that we have done everything in our power to protect them from COVID-19. With this mandate, we can once again make — and keep — that fundamental promise."

Across the country, health care workers and some state and city employees are being mandated to get COVID-19 vaccines as medical experts fear the current low rates in vaccination could overwhelm the nation’s health care system. 

New York City will require all of its municipal workers — including teachers and police officers — to get coronavirus vaccines by mid-September or face weekly COVID-19 testing, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday.

RELATED: Over 50 US medical groups call for mandatory COVID-19 vaccination of health care workers

The rule is expected to affect about 340,000 city employees, making the city one of the largest employers in the U.S. to take such action. While it isn't a vaccine mandate — no workers will be forced to take a shot — officials hope the inconvenience and discomfort of weekly tests will persuade many to overcome a reluctance to get inoculated.

"This is about our recovery. This is about what we need to do to bring back New York City," de Blasio said. "This is about keeping people safe."

On Monday, dozens of major medical groups called on health care and long-term care employers to require their workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19. 

A joint statement issued Monday was signed by 56 groups, including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Nursing, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Physicians and the American Pharmacists Association. 

More than 163 million people, or 49.1% of the total U.S. population, are fully vaccinated, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those eligible for the vaccine, aged 12 and over, the figure rises to 57.4%.

Health officials, including the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, have stressed that soaring virus cases over the past few weeks are being fueled by unvaccinated people and the fast spread of the delta variant.

"We’re going in the wrong direction," Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday on CNN’s "State of the Union," saying he is "very frustrated" at the state of the pandemic.

"This is an issue predominantly among the unvaccinated, which is the reason why we’re out there, practically pleading with the unvaccinated people to go out and get vaccinated," Fauci added.

This story was reported from Los Angeles. Kelly Hayes and The Associated Press contributed.