“Our number one goal is the health and safety of the American public, including our federal workforce, and the 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.
The department’s approach mirrors the vaccine mandate rolled out by the Department of Veterans Affairs in late July, after Biden administration lawyers determined it was legal for private businesses and public agencies to require Covid-19 vaccinations.
The Department of Defense recently signaled plans to require service members to get the vaccine as well, amid a coronavirus resurgence driven by the Delta variant. Nationwide, daily new cases have skyrocketed in the last month, reaching levels not seen since early February.
The HHS mandate will also apply to contractors, trainees and volunteers whose responsibilities put them in potential contact with patients at a federal medical or clinical research facility. An HHS official told POLITICO that the department estimates 20 to 30 percent of the population covered by the mandate is currently unvaccinated, based on those who voluntarily reported their status.
Still, the requirements ultimately cover just a fraction of the department’s entire workforce, which totals more than 80,000 employees across 11 operating divisions.
The rest will be subject to a government-wide policy that requires workers to get vaccinated or submit to a slew of precautions, including regular Covid-19 testing, mask-wearing and travel restrictions.