The Department of Veterans Affairs has mandated COVID-19 vaccinations for its front-line health care workers, making it the first federal agency to do so amid a spike in coronavirus cases nationwide.

The agency gave employees two months to comply, saying those affected include physicians, dentists, podiatrists, optometrists, registered nurses, physician assistants, expanded-function dental auxiliaries and chiropractors.

“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,” Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement.

The VA inoculated 600 veterans at the Keehi Lagoon Memorial during its first mass vaccination event in Hawaii. Kevin Knodell/Civil Beat/2021

President Joe Biden is reportedly weighing the possibility of requiring all federal employees to get a vaccination or face testing mandates as the number of cases spikes, driven by the delta variant.

Gov. David Ige has said he also is considering a mandate for state workers, especially those in higher risk environments such as correctional facilities and jails.

“We want to be mindful of how best to protect the health and safety of state employees, the public servants and the general public,” Ige said. “We continue to evaluate all the situations and will make appropriate decisions that are based on science and are in the best interest of public health.”

The VA mandate also affects employees with the Oahu-based VA Pacific Islands Healthcare System, which oversees health care for all veterans across Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas.

Spokeswoman Amy Rohlfs said most of the system’s health care workers already have been fully vaccinated.

“Currently we’re working on the 20% who are not vaccinated to ensure that they are,” she said. The VA did not specify whether they would fire employees unwilling to comply with the requirement.

The agency has one in-patient care site and seven outpatient care sites in Hawaii, according to a 2017 report. About 17,000 veterans in Hawaii are fully vaccinated, the VA says.

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