As the number of new coronavirus cases surges again in the United States, major medical groups in the country on Monday called for mandatory vaccinations of millions of health care workers, saying it is a moral imperative to help curb the spread of the infection.
The American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association and 55 other groups said in a joint statement, "We call for all health care and long-term care employers to require their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19."
The groups, many of them calling for mandated vaccinations for the first time, said, "The health and safety of U.S. workers, families, communities, and the nation depends on it."
Within hours of the statement, the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department, which operates 1,700 medical centers and outpatient clinics for retired military personnel, said it is now making vaccinations mandatory for most of its health care workers. It is the first federal agency to impose such a demand and gave workers eight weeks to comply.
"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," Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement.
Some health care organizations have been reluctant to require their workers to get vaccinated, even though they are on the front lines of treating patients.
Surveys have shown that less than half of nurses treating patients have been vaccinated even though they have had ready access to the shots for months. One major hospital in Houston, Texas, imposed mandatory vaccinations, with more than 150 of their workers resigning or being fired in June when they refused.
The statement from the medical groups comes as the U.S. is facing a sharp increase in the number of new COVD-19 cases, with 48 of the country's 50 states showing an increase of 10% or more in the last week. Across the U.S., the number of new cases nearly quadrupled in July, up from about 13,000 cases a day to more than 50,000 currently. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus.
The increase has been particularly pronounced in states with low vaccination rates and as the delta variant of the virus, first discovered in India, has spread in the United States. Some state officials who previously had expressed the view that getting vaccinated was a personal choice are now much more vocal in making it clear their citizens should immediately get the jabs, although no mandates have been imposed.
The top U.S. infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said Sunday the United States is "going in the wrong direction" with COVID-19 cases.
Speaking on CNN's "State of the Union" program, Fauci said, "Fifty percent of the country is not vaccinated. That's a problem."
"We're putting ourselves in danger," said Fauci, the top medical adviser to President Joe Biden.
He said vaccinated people "are highly protected," including against the delta variant. But the pace of vaccinations has dropped in the U.S. by more than 80% since mid-April.
Some U.S. cities, including Los Angeles in the West and St. Louis in the middle of the country, have imposed new orders for people to wear masks in public indoor spaces regardless of vaccination status. Other cities are considering similar directives.
In other virus-related developments, COVAX, the global initiative to provide equitable access to vaccines across the globe, and the World Bank said they would expedite the supply of vaccines to developing countries through a new financing mechanism.
And Democratic members of the U.S. congressional committee investigating the federal government's response to the coronavirus under former President Donald Trump said the committee has now documented at least 88 incidents of his administration interfering in the coronavirus response by health officials to benefit his prospects in last November's election that he lost to Democrat Biden.
In China, health officials reported 76 new COVID cases Sunday. The cluster in the eastern city of Nanjing is the highest number of cases reported in the Asian country since January, according to the Reuters news agency.
In Thailand, a third wave of infections is leading the government to impose strict lockdowns across heavily hit provinces, including Bangkok. Public spaces were closed Friday as part of a wider effort to reduce the spread of the infection. Sunday, however, saw more than 15,000 new cases and more than 100 deaths, the highest since the pandemic began, according to local media reports.