(The Center Square) - The Department of Health and Human Services will now mandate all employees receive the COVID-19 vaccine, becoming the latest government agency to make the requirement.
HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra announced the new vaccine requirement Thursday for the more than 25,000 people employed by the department.
“Our number one goal is the health and safety of the American public, including our federal workforce. And vaccines are the best tool we have to protect people from COVID-19, prevent the spread of the Delta variant, and save lives,” said Becerra. “As President Biden has said, we have to do all we can to increase vaccinations to keep more people safe. Instructing our HHS health care workforce to get vaccinated will protect our federal workers and the patients and people they serve.”
The order will require all employees along with contractors, volunteers and trainees who work with the department to get the COVID-19 vaccine. The statement also announced the department will have processes for medical and religious exemptions, similar to those for other required vaccines.
The announcement from the HHS came the same week the Pentagon announced it would require members of the military to get the vaccine by September 15. It also comes amid growing backlash to vaccine requirements.
Several states have banned vaccine passports, while other states have tried to ban mandatory vaccinations. In the Senate, Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., have introduced a bill to ban COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
“I got the vaccine because it was the right choice for me," Cruz said. "But I also believe in individual freedom. No one should force anyone to take the vaccine...including the federal government or an employer. Americans should have the choice to make their own medical decisions in consultation with their doctor."
The bill is not expected to gain traction but measures at the state level to ban vaccine mandates may have a higher likelihood of passing.
Despite backlash over vaccine mandates, the Biden administration is pushing for more employers and organizations to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine amid the recent rise in Delta variant cases. Jeff Zients, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, stressed this at a briefing Thursday.
“Vaccination requirements are gaining momentum across the country and are already covering tens of millions of workers, educators, college and university students, and healthcare providers,” he said. “Here’s the bottom line: Through vaccination requirements, employers have the power to help end the pandemic.”