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According to federal law, however, the rejection option “can only be lifted by the president” if it is determined that the rejection is “not in the interests of national security”. The White House did not respond to requests for comment.
The reluctance of the troops complicates the relationship between military facilities and the surrounding communities and can make deployments abroad more difficult. For example, on a recent deployment to Europe from Fort Bragg, NC, several unvaccinated soldiers had to be replaced with those who had received their vaccinations due to quarantine regulations in the countries where they were deployed. Military barracks are also known risks for transmitting respiratory infections, said Dr. Tom Frieden, a former CDC director.
Of the 21 people infected with the coronavirus at Defense Department hospital centers, none were vaccinated, officials said this week.
“The benefits of vaccination are remarkably clear,” said Lt. Gen. Ronald J. Place, director of the Defense Health Agency.
A lack of vaccine uptake among hospital staff looking after veterans could be more worrying; Veterans may be more prone to infection due to their average age, as well as service-related injuries and illnesses. Nearly 12,500 veterans have died from coronavirus-related complications since the pandemic began.
Of the roughly 380,000 people who work for the Department of Veterans Affairs, 298,186 are fully vaccinated, or about 78 percent – more than the national average of about 46 percent but well below what Mr McDonough said he wanted for those who provide healthcare.
About 20,300 VA employees have contracted the coronavirus since March 2020, and 190 in the last month after vaccines became widespread in the United States. While some facilities – like a VA center in New Orleans, once a virus epicenter – vaccinated 85 percent of workers, at others, like a center in St. Cloud, Minn, that rate was closer to 59 percent.