HHS is now the third federal agency to require its employees to receive the vaccine, joining the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense.
“Staff at the Indian Health Service (IHS) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) who serve in federally-operated health care and clinical research facilities and interact with, or have the potential to come into contact with, patients will be required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement.
The policy will apply to more than 25,000 individuals who operate health and clinical research facilities, or who could come into contact with patients.
“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,” Becerra said.
The list of staff who must be vaccinated includes employees, contractors, trainees, and volunteers who are in contact with patients at HHS medical or research facilities.
According to the HHS statement, Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said that members of the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps also “immediately” need to get vaccinated as part of “medical readiness procedures to prepare for any potential deployment need as emergency responders.”
The initiative echoes a mandate from the Department of Veterans Affairs, which implemented the policy soon after the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Office of Legal Counsel determined in late July that it was legal for private businesses and public agencies to require COVID-19 vaccines.
The DOJ’s opinion, which noted that some have questioned the legality of such mandates, concluded that federal law concerning the Food and Drug Administration’s emergency use authorizations on COVID-19 vaccines don’t “prohibit public or private entities from imposing vaccine requirements, even when the only vaccines available are those authorized under EUAs.”
On Aug. 9, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he was seeking approval to require all active-duty members of the military to receive the vaccines. President Joe Biden, meanwhile, said that all federal employees must attest to being vaccinated or face regular testing and social distancing requirements.
At the same time, states such as California and New York have also issued mandates for state employees to get COVID-19 shots.
“As President Biden has said, we are looking at every way we can to increase vaccinations to keep more people safe, and requiring our HHS health care workforce to get vaccinated will protect our federal workers, as well as the patients and people they serve,” Becerra said.