House passes bill to expand veterans' access to COVID-19, flu vaccines

The House passed legislation on Monday that would expand access for veterans, their spouses and their caregivers to receive vaccines for both the flu and COVID-19 through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

The bill, passed by voice vote, would build upon a law enacted earlier this year that gave the VA authority to administer coronavirus vaccines to all veterans as well as their spouses and caregivers. That marked a significant expansion from prior rules that limited the VA to administering vaccines to veterans enrolled in its health care system or family caregivers registered in its assistance program.

Under the proposal approved on Monday, the VA could provide seasonal flu vaccines alongside the COVID-19 shots through April 29 of next year.

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"Public health officials are clear: It is completely safe to receive both inoculations even at the same time," said House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Mark TakanoMark Allan TakanoThis week: Democrats set for showdown on voting rights, filibuster Key House chairman wants to lead official trip to Taiwan in January Biden signs four bills aimed at helping veterans MORE (D-Calif.). "By providing easy access to both vaccines at the same time, I hope we can begin to reduce the burden on the broader health care system this winter."

Passage of the bill comes the winter holiday season is approaching and coronavirus cases in the U.S. are rising again. Cases had recently stabilized after the summer's surge driven by the delta variant of the virus.

Flu viruses, meanwhile, tend to peak in the winter months between December and February. The incidence of the flu is currently low overall, but infections have increased in recent weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Flu activity was unusually low during the 2020-2021 season both in the U.S. and globally. The CDC attributed the decline to COVID-19 mitigation measures such as masks, avoidance of crowds and school closures that also helped limit the spread of the flu virus.