(WASHINGTON) -- As the delta variant spreads nationwide, the Department of Health and Human Services will require vaccination from more than 25,000 of its employees that directly work with patients, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra announced Thursday.
Going a step beyond the general guidelines for the federal workforce -- which is to get vaccinated or be required to wear a mask and do frequent testing -- the Department of Health and Human Services is mandating the vaccine for its employees who deal directly with patients. The Department of Veterans Affairs has called for the same policy for its 115,000 health care workers.
Both agencies employ doctors or nurses that could be directly exposed to the virus at work, or directly expose vulnerable patients to it.
The roughly 25,000 HHS employees will have until the end of September to be vaccinated, an HHS official said.
"To increase vaccination coverage and protect more people from COVID-19, including the more transmissible Delta variant, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will require more than 25,000 members of its health care workforce to be vaccinated against COVID-19," the department said in a statement.
The 25,000 HHS employees who will be required to get vaccinated are concentrated within the Indian Health Service and National Institute of Health, as well as the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.
"Staff at the Indian Health Service (IHS) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) who serve in federally-operated health care and clinical research facilities and interact with, or have the potential to come into contact with, patients will be required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine," HHS said in a statement.
The department will allow exemptions for religious or medical reasons.