HHS mandates COVID vaccine for its public-facing clinicians

Nearly 25,000 HHS employees will be required to get vaccinated against COVID-19 amid a surge in national infections, Secretary Xavier Becerra announced on Thursday.

Editorial credit: CHRISTOPHER E ZIMMER / Shutterstock.com April 22, 2019 - The north-west corner of The U.S. Dept Department of Health and Human Services.

All Health and Human Services employees who interact with patients are now required to be vaccinated against COVID-19, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra announced on Thursday.

The decision comes amid a government-wide push to expand vaccination requirements and COVID-19 safety protocols for federal employees, and impacts nearly 25,000 front-facing Indian Health Services and NIH workers, as well as members of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, according to Secretary Becerra.

“Our number one goal is the health and safety of the American public, including our federal workforce,” he said. “Instructing our HHS health care workforce to get vaccinated will protect our federal workers and the patients and people they serve.”

Those workers include employees or volunteers who may come in contact with patients at HHS facilities, including clinicians and researchers, or even medical workers who have been deployed to assist with a surge in patients in states dealing with coronavirus outbreaks among unvaccinated individuals.

As nationwide infections continue to surge beyond 100,000 cases a day, agencies like the Department of Defense and the Veterans Affairs administration have announced new vaccine requirements for members of the military and all VA health care and nursing home workers.

President Joe Biden also recently announced government-wide mandates for all federal workers to get vaccinated or face regular COVID-19 testing and other restrictions, including a limit on travel for most individuals.

Nearly 50% of Americans have been vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the latest available CDC data. The public and private sector have both increasingly begun expanding vaccine mandates after administration officials found it was legal to require vaccinations for employees, with Google and United Airlines announcing new requirements for their workers. California also became the first state this week requiring teachers to get vaccinated or face weekly testing.

But Thursday’s decision only impacts just over 30% of the HHS workforce: nearly 55,000 HHS employees will not be subjected to the new vaccine mandate. However, those employees will still have to follow the federal guidelines issued by the White House.