In a July 26 press release, the VA said its mandatory vaccination order applied to all Title 38 health care personnel who work or visit Veterans Health Administration (VHA) facilities nationwide and those who provide direct care to people being served by VA. These included physicians, dentists, podiatrists, optometrists, registered nurses, physician assistants and chiropractors.
"VA is taking this necessary step to keep the veterans it serves safe," the press release said.
Employees will be given two months to get the vaccine. VA health workers can get the COVID-19 vaccine "at no personal expense" at any VHA medical facility. The press release also mentioned that employees will receive four hours of paid administrative leave once they show proof of vaccination.
VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in the press release: "We're mandating vaccines for Title 38 employees because it's the best way to keep veterans safe, especially as the delta variant spreads across the country. 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."
McDonough later told the New York Times that the mandatory vaccination order would apply to employees who have the most contact with patients. "I am doing this because it's the best way to keep our veterans safe, full stop," he said.
Biden confirmed the VA's announcement on July 26 before his meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi on that day. He said in a brief statement to reporters: "Yes, [VA] is going to, in fact, require that all [doctors] working in facilities … be vaccinated." (Related: Biden mulls requiring all military forces to receive coronavirus vaccine.)
The VA's July 26 announcement made it the first federal agency to issue a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination order. Under the VHA, it operated about 1,000 outpatient sites and many more VA medical centers that served more than 9 million enrolled veterans.
The agency noted in its press release that it had already lost four unvaccinated employees to COVID-19. At least three of them died as a result of catching the B16172 delta variant. It added that a COVID-19 outbreak occurred among unvaccinated employees and trainees at the VA Law Enforcement Training Center in Arkansas, the third such outbreak during the pandemic.
VA's mandatory vaccination order echoed that of Texas-based hospital network Houston Methodist. More than 100 medical staff sued the hospital network after it mandated COVID-19 vaccinations, an article by the Free Thought Project said. The lawsuit accused Houston Methodist of forcing staff members to become "human guinea pigs" as a condition of continued employment.
According to the lawsuit, Houston Methodist CEO Marc Boom informed the hospital network's 26,000 staff members that they must get the COVID-19 vaccine before June 7. Anyone who failed to get inoculated by the deadline would be fired. Boom completely dismissed the facts in the lawsuit and defended his decision to mandate vaccines. "It is legal for health care institutions to mandate vaccines, as we have done with the flu vaccine since 2009," he said. (Related: Houston Methodist Hospital fires more than 150 employees who refused to get vaccinated.)
Nevertheless, the COVID-19 vaccine mandates put in place by the VA and Houston Methodist counted as human rights violations. Compulsory vaccination went against the concept of informed consent as outlined in the Nuremberg Code.
The code said: "The voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential. This means that the person involved should have legal capacity to give consent … without the intervention of any element of force, fraud, deceit, duress, … constraint or coercion." In both the instances at the VA and Houston Methodist, the threat of termination for employees made it impossible to turn down the vaccines as their jobs were on the line.
Furthermore, the COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. remained experimental and were only granted emergency use authorization (EUA) by the Food and Drug Administration. According to Children's Health Defense, EUA vaccines "are not fully licensed and must be voluntary." It continued that entities or organizations that require the COVID-19 vaccine "are in violation of federal law and will likely face lawsuits if they don't allow exemptions or alternatives."