Federal health agency, California and New York City impose vaccine mandates

The US has one of the most vaccine hesitant populations in the world

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The US Department of Veterans Affairs on Monday became the first major federal agency to require health care workers to get Covid-19 vaccines, as the aggressive Delta variant spreads and many communities report increases in hospitalisations.

The move from the VA, which provides health care to US military veterans, came on a day when nearly 60 leading medical and health care organisations issued a call for US health care facilities to require their workers to get vaccinated.

At the VA, vaccines will be mandatory for specified health care personnel — including doctors, dentists, podiatrists, optometrists and others who provide direct care to veterans, VA Secretary Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough said.

Employees will have eight weeks to get their shots.

“It’s the best way to keep veterans safe, especially as the Delta variant spreads across the country,” Mr McDonough said in a statement. “Whenever a veteran or VA employee sets foot in a VA facility, they deserve to know that we have done everything in our power to protect them from Covid-19.

“With this mandate, we can once again make — and keep — that fundamental promise,” he added.

California, the nation's most populous state, moved to require state employees and all health care workers to show proof of a Covid-19 vaccination or get tested weekly next month.

File photo of California Governor Gavin Newsom at a press conference in June. His mandate follows a similar move in New York. AP

There are at least 238,000 state employees, according to the California controller’s office, and at least 2 million health care workers in the public and private sectors.

“We may be the first state at scale to not only require it for all state employees but to engage in public-private partnership with our healthcare facilities in the state,” Governor Gavin Newsom said in announcing the new policy.

Mr Newsom's move follows one in New York City, where Mayor Bill de Blasio said all of its municipal workers — including teachers and police officers — are required to get coronavirus vaccines by mid-September or face weekly Covid-19 testing.

The rule is expected to affect about 340,000 city employees, making the city one of the largest employers in the US to take such action. While it isn’t a vaccine mandate — no workers will be forced to take a shot — officials hope the inconvenience and discomfort of weekly tests will persuade many to overcome a reluctance to get inoculated.

“This is about our recovery. This is about what we need to do to bring back New York City,” Mr de Blasio said. “This is about keeping people safe.”

These moves come as a Morning Consult survey from last week found the US ranks just behind Russia in having the world's most vaccine hesitant populations.

About 69 per cent of the US adult population has had at least one dose.

Updated: July 26, 2021, 8:22 PM