Employees, contractors and volunteers with the Indian Health Service and National Institutes of Health who have the potential to come into contact with patients will be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine, the Health and Human Services secretary announced.

The requirement is expected to impact about 25,000 members of the Health and Human Services healthcare workforce.

“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 Becerra said in an Aug. 12 news release.

“As President Biden has said, we have to do all we can to increase vaccinations to keep more people safe. Instructing our HHS health care workforce to get vaccinated will protect our federal workers and the patients and people they serve.”

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has also required members of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps to receive the vaccine as part of their medical readiness.

President Joe Biden announced last month that federal employees would have to attest to their vaccine status or face restrictions in the workplace, but that requirement stopped short of making the COVID-19 vaccine a condition of continued employment.

According to the HHS press release, existing guidelines for agency employees to receive their seasonal flu vaccine and other routine vaccinations will be applied to the COVID-19 requirement, meaning that some employees may be entitled to religious or medical exemptions.

HHS is the second healthcare agency to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations of its workers. Last month, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced its medical staff is required to receive the vaccine.

The Department of Defense has also announced that it will add the COVID-19 vaccine to its list of required immunizations for servicemembers.

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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