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VA will require health-care workers to get Covid vaccine

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A health worker prepares to administer a dose of Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine at Khagendra Navajeevan Kendra, a rehabilitation center for people with disabilities, in Kathmandu.

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WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs will require its health-care personnel to receive the Covid-19 vaccine, becoming the first major federal agency to implement such a mandate, as the highly transmissible delta variant spreads across the nation while immunizations stall.

“Veterans Affairs is going to in fact require, that all doctors working in facilities are going to have to be vaccinated,” President Joe Biden told reporters Monday in the Oval Office alongside Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al Kadhimi.

Veteran Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough described the new measure as “the best way to keep Veterans safe.”

“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,” McDonough wrote in a statement.

The mandate, first reported by The New York Times, requires more than 100,000 frontline health-care workers at the VA to accept vaccinations against the coronavirus within the next two months.

The mandate applies to physicians, dentists, podiatrists, optometrists, registered nurses, physician assistants and chiropractors who work in or visit VA health facilities as well as those who provide direct care to VA patients.

The move comes on the heels of rising U.S. coronavirus cases, linked in part, to the highly transmissible delta variant and the refusal of the vaccines by a substantial portion of the population.

The weekly average of new daily Covid infections in the U.S. is nearly 52,000, an increase of 61% from the week prior, according to a CNBC analysis of Johns Hopkins University data. As recently as July 5, the nation’s seven-day average of new daily infections was just below 12,000.

Earlier on Monday, California and New York City government officials announced in separate press conferences that all state employees will be required to show evidence of vaccination or be regularly tested for the virus.

In California, state employees who remain unvaccinated by Aug. 2 will be required to produce a negative Covid test at least once a week.

“We’re at a point in this epidemic, this pandemic where choice, individuals’ choice not to get vaccinated is now impacting the rest of us in [a] profound and devastating and deadly way,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday. “That choice has led to an increase in case rates, growing concern around increasing death rates and self evidently brought hospitalization rates.”

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city would require its more than 300,000 employees to get vaccinated by Sept. 13 or get tested weekly. Last week, New York City passed a vaccine mandate for all health-care workers at city-run hospitals and clinics.

—CNBC’s Kevin Stankiewicz contributed to this report from New York.

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