The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will require more than 25,000 of its clinical and research staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19, the agency announced Thursday.
The move comes as the highly transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus spreads across the nation, leading to a new wave of infections and strained hospitals in areas of the country with low vaccination rates.
In a statement, the agency said the requirement will be in place for all staff at the Indian Health Service (IHS) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) who serve in federally operated health care and clinical research facilities and interact with patients, or even have the potential to come into contact with them.
HHS said the requirement will also be in place for members of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps so they are prepared for potential deployment as emergency responders.
Those personnel are already required to receive the seasonal influenza vaccine as well as other routine vaccinations, with processes for medical and religious exemptions.
HHS said the agencies would implement the COVID-19 vaccination requirement using the same processes that are already in place for other vaccines.
“Our number one goal is the health and safety of the American public, including our federal workforce, and vaccines are the best tool we have to protect people from COVID-19, prevent the spread of the delta variant, and save lives,” HHS Secretary Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraOvernight Health Care — Presented by the National Council for Mental Wellbeing — FDA panel endorses booster shots of Johnson & Johnson vaccine Biden administration to invest 0 million to boost health care, attract workers FDA guidance calls for voluntary salt reduction in food supply MORE said in a statement.
The Department of Veterans Affairs late last month was the first federal agency to require certain employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19, and the Department of Defense this week said it will require members of the military to be vaccinated.
President BidenJoe BidenJill Biden campaigns for McAuliffe in Virginia Fill the Eastern District of Virginia Biden: Those who defy Jan. 6 subpoenas should be prosecuted MORE is also requiring all federal workers and contractors to sign forms attesting they’ve been vaccinated, or else be subject to mandatory masking, distancing and testing rules.
Unlike the broader federal policy though, the HHS policy makes vaccination mandatory, with no alternative option.