Federal vaccine mandate for health care workers in 10 states blocked by judge
Pat Winokur, executive dean of the University of Iowa Carver College, received one of the first COVID-19 vaccines in Iowa on Dec. 14, 2020. (Photo courtesy of University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics)
WASHINGTON — Enforcement of the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for millions of health care workers was blocked in 10 states on Monday, after a ruling by a federal judge in Missouri.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Matthew Schelp affects the states involved in the lawsuit, which include Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, and New Hampshire.
The others are North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Arkansas, Wyoming and Alaska.
At issue is President Joe Biden’s campaign to ensure that workers throughout the country are vaccinated against COVID-19.
Under Biden’s order, many private-sector employees were required to get vaccinated or undergo weekly tests, while some 17 million health care providers at facilities participating in the federal Medicare and Medicaid health insurance programs must be vaccinated — with no option to choose weekly testing instead.
Under the requirement, health care workers were to be vaccinated by Jan. 4, 2022.
In his 32-page opinion granting a preliminary injunction while the lawsuit proceeds, Schelp wrote that the state attorneys general challenging the mandate appear likely to succeed in their argument that federal health officials lack the authority to implement the requirement.
He also agreed with claims from the plaintiffs that health care facilities will suffer staffing shortages due to the requirement.
“The public has an interest in stopping the spread of COVID. No one disputes that,” Schelp, who was nominated by President Donald Trump in 2019, wrote in the 32-page opinion. “But the court concludes that the public would suffer little, if any, harm from maintaining the ‘status quo’ through the litigation of this case.”
In a statement after the ruling, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds called the vaccine rules an “attack on individual liberties” by the Biden administration.
“Medical providers that have been on the frontlines of this pandemic saving lives deserve the freedom and ability to make their own informed health care decisions,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds said she believes the vaccine is the “best defense” against COVID-19, “but I also firmly believe in Iowans’ right to make health care decisions based on what’s best for themselves and their families …”
There are five state-run health care facilities that receive Medicare and Medicaid funding: the Iowa Veterans Home, the Cherokee and Independence Mental Health Institutes, and the Glenwood and Woodward Resource Centers.
Iowa currently has 27 nursing homes with COVID-19 outbreaks, involving 259 staff or resident infections, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health.
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt described the injunction as “a huge victory for health care workers in Missouri and across the country, including rural hospitals who were facing near-certain collapse due to this mandate.”
“While today’s ruling is a victory, there’s more work to be done, and I will keep fighting to push back on this unprecedented federal overreach,” Schmitt added.
Several other lawsuits from states are pending in federal courts, challenging both the mandate on health care workers and the broader mandate on most private sector employees.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Monday that the administration is “obviously going to abide by the law and fight any efforts in courts or otherwise” to prevent health care facilities from protecting their work forces.
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