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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Though the final deadline for all Veterans Affairs staff to be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus still is weeks away, no employee at the VA Health Care System in Iowa City has left their role as a result of the federal directive, local officials say.
Approximately 91 percent of all staff at the Iowa City-based VA health system are fully vaccinated as of this week, with the potential for the total to increase by next month.
“All exemptions are being reviewed, but no staff, that I am aware, has left due to the requirement,” said Jamie Johnson, public affairs officer for the Iowa City VA Health Care System.
All VA employees have until Nov. 22 to be fully vaccinated or have an exemption request on file for medical or religious reasons as part of a mandate for federal workers issued by the Biden administration last month.
That’s in addition to the roughly 380,000 front-line workers who were required to get the shots through a rule issued by the Department of Veterans Affairs earlier this summer.
The department, which runs one of the nation’s largest health systems, mandated the coronavirus vaccines for all front line workers by Oct. 8, becoming the first federal agency to issue a COVID-19 vaccine requirement. Employees — which includes physicians, nurses and dentists, among other health care workers — had until Oct. 18 to submit documentation or to request accommodation, VA officials said.
It’s unclear if any exemptions have been requested and granted so far to Iowa City VA Health Care System employees. Johnson said officials will have a more detailed count of employee vaccine status “in the coming weeks.”
The Iowa City-based health system provides health care to more than 180,000 veterans living in 50 counties across Eastern Iowa, western Illinois and northern Missouri. It also operates 10 clinics in cities including Coralville and Cedar Rapids.
A VA online chart shows 1,934 employees in Iowa City are fully vaccinated, including 1,895 who received a two-dose vaccine and 39 who received the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. An additional 160 employees have received just one dose of a two-dose vaccine from either Pfizer or Moderna.
In a news conference this past week, VA Secretary Denis McDonough said supervisors within the health system will begin a discipline process for any non-compliant employees who aren’t vaccinated, but don’t request an exemption.
“Any time any vet walks into any VA facility or any time any VA employee appears in a veteran’s home, that veteran needs to know that we have done everything in our power to keep them safe,” McDonough told reporters.
McDonough did not elaborate on what the disciplinary process would entail, but said it would start with counseling for any employee who refuses the vaccine.
No disciplinary actions have been taken yet for employees at the Iowa City VA, but Johnson said those who refuse to vaccinate or request an exemption “could face action.”
At the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Des Moines, 1,502 employees are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to the VA. That includes 1,348 workers immunized with a two-dose vaccine and 154 workers who received the Johnson & Johnson shot.
The VA health care centers in both Iowa City and Des Moines have seen 198 COVID-19 deaths and more than 4,000 COVID-19 cases among veterans and employees since March 2020.
The VA directive is in line with COVID-19 vaccine mandates that have been implemented by other health care systems and hospitals nationwide, including a number of facilities in Iowa.
UnityPoint Health, one of Iowa’s largest hospital and clinic systems, announced earlier this summer that all 33,000 system employees — whether they are involved with patient care or not — must be fully vaccinated.
All roughly 17,000 employees at 16 MercyOne hospitals and clinics across Iowa must also comply with a mandate, which exemptions allowed for medical or religious reasons.
The deadline for both health systems is Nov. 1.
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