91% of VA Health Care Workers Submitted COVID-19 Vaccine-Related Data
“The goal of the disciplinary process is not to fire people,” but rather “get people vaccinated,” said the VA secretary.
The Veterans Affairs Department is still in the process of collecting and analyzing data related to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers, who had an earlier deadline than other federal employees.
VA Secretary Denis McDonough spoke at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday afternoon, which came after the October 8 deadline for health care employees to get vaccinated but before the November 22 deadline for the rest of the federal workforce.
“We’re still getting all of our data together,” he said. As of this morning, about 91% of the health care professionals at VA “have uploaded their data,” which could be proof of vaccination or requests for one of the exemptions. This is up from about 70% about two and a half weeks ago.
“We're not going to question the legitimacy of anyone's individual declaration of a religious exception,” McDonough said. However, “we may find ourselves in a situation where, for example, in an oncology department or in a spinal cord injury facility or in an intensive care unit...or community living center[s], we may have so many people who have claimed a religious exemption that we can't safely provide care to our veterans in those vulnerable situations, in which case we reserve the right to deny religious exemptions.”
The VA has not yet experienced any staffing shortages yet as a result of the mandate, he said. “We're doing all the planning that you would expect...we need a 100% data picture so we can plan accordingly, and we can make decisions accordingly.”
In the disciplinary process, VA will be making “individualized determinations,” said McDonough. “We’ve begun our disciplinary process” for an unspecified number of individuals. The Biden administration has a progressive discipline policy for those who do not show proof of vaccinations.
“If the whole process plays out, it could take as many as three months from starting the disciplinary process to the end of the process, which frankly, I'm quite comfortable with because the goal of the disciplinary process is not to fire people,” said McDonough. “The goal is to get people vaccinated.”
White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said during the briefing on Monday that “[federal] agencies will release their vaccination rates once they complete their process.” Already, 97% of active-duty troops are vaccinated “and we're seeing strong compliance across the federal government,” she said. “Tens of thousands of federal workers get vaccinated each week. Additionally, agencies are moving forward in real time with collecting vaccination and compliance data.”
When asked if those numbers will include religious exemptions, Jean-Pierre said she would have to find out, but reiterated that those numbers come from the agencies.