NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Senator Martin Heinrich is backing the federal mandate requiring the vaccine for health care workers with Veterans Affairs. The United States Department of Veteran Affairs announced the requirement Monday, as the delta variant spreads and parts of the country see a surge in cases.

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Sen. Heinrich says he supports the mandate because it could save the lives of veterans. “It was a non-zero probability that if they didn’t require this among employees that it was going to cause additional COVID and have real consequences for veterans. And so I think our first mission always is, as the VA, is to take care of those veterans, to keep them well and to keep their health number one,” Sen. Heinrich said.

Nationally, four unvaccinated VA employees died of COVID-19, three of them had the delta variant strain. Under the new mandate, COVID-19 vaccines are mandatory for 115,000 VA health care workers.

Sen. Heinrich believes other agencies and businesses will follow suit. “I do think that you’re going to see more vaccination requirements, in part, because we have so much data showing just how safe this vaccine is, how effective it is and that if you are unvaccinated right now, I mean the pandemic right now is completely rooted in the unvaccinated community,” Sen. Heinrich said.

VA employees will have eight weeks to get fully vaccinated. The department believes that roughly seventy percent of its health care workers are fully vaccinated.