The Department of Veterans Affairs announced on July 26 that they would be requiring their frontline healthcare workers be vaccinated against COVID-19. These healthcare workers include physicians, dentists, podiatrists, optometrists, registered nurses, physicians assistants, expanded-function dental auxiliaries, and chiropractors who work at or visit Veterans Health Administration buildings.
This decision was made in light of the Delta variant of COVID-19 currently on the rise as well as the recent loss of four employees and outbreak at a VA Law Enforcement Training Center.
The VA will give their employees eight weeks to be fully vaccinated. Vaccines will be freely available to their employees at any VA facility and employees who are fully vaccinated can have four hours of paid administrative leave.
Healthcare facilities across the US have begun requiring COVID-19 vaccinations as a condition of employment, the VA becoming the most recent. Since the VA is a federal organization, this has ramifications for Oregon VA employees.
Oregon is the only state with a law on the books which prevents immunization as a condition of employmentexcept in the case of federally required vaccinations. This requirement makes the VA the first healthcare organization in Oregon to make employment contingent on getting a COVID-19 vaccine. As it stands, around 78% of Portland’s VA staff are vaccinated. This won’t be enough to keep them and the veterans they care for safe, especially in light of the Delta variant.
The push to mandate the vaccination of healthcare workers is broadly supported by many major healthcare organizations. A joint statement advocating for mandatory COVID-19 vaccines issued by over 50 such organizations hailed the requirement as “the logical fulfillment of the ethical commitment of all health care workers.”
Even with Oregon’s present law, the fact that the VA is a federal entity means that its requirements will likely take precedence if this decision is brought before a court.
At the time of writing, Benton County leads Oregon in the percentage of healthcare workers vaccinated with 82%. While this is good news for Benton County, many of the outlying counties have dangerously low vaccination rates, bottoming out at 45% in Harney County.