The Department of Veterans Affairs announced Jan. 5 that it had successfully administered initial COVID-19 vaccine doses to more than 132,000 health care employees, nearly a third of the agency’s total workforce.

According to the most recent Office of Personnel Management employment data, the VA employs over 412,000 people, one of the largest segments of federal employees of any agency. Not all of those employees are in patient-facing positions, meaning that the percentage of health-care employees given the first dose of the vaccine is likely higher, and the percentage of employees working in non-health-care positions at the agency has far lower vaccination rates.

The agency initially selected 37 of the 1,255 medical facilities to receive vaccine doses, though 128 additional sites have since been added to the list.

“This is a massive undertaking that is happening at rapid pace,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie in a news release. “This week, the initial 37 sites that received the first limited Pfizer-BioNTech allocations are beginning to administer the second dose.”

The vaccination numbers come at the same time as VA employees have criticized a lack of engagement from leadership in vaccination and COVID safety planning. Those criticisms include how and when certain VA cites have administered vaccines to health-care workers.

In addition to employees that have been administered the first vaccine, the VA said that more than 14,000 high-risk veterans have also received their first doses.

The agency is responsible for the health care of over 9 million enrolled veterans, according to the VA website, meaning that the agency will have far further to go to vaccinate all veterans than all employees.

Health-care workers have been listed as among the highest priority recipients of the COVID vaccine by the Centers for Disease Control, alongside some national security personnel, pregnant women and children under three years old. Other critical government personnel that are in high-severity pandemic areas have been listed under the second and third tier vaccination schedules.

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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