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The Tuesday ruling stops a nationwide vaccine mandate by the Biden administration that was set to start Dec. 6.
A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction Tuesday to stop the Biden administration’s national Covid-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers, which was set to begin Dec. 6.
The injunction expands on a separate order issued Monday by a federal court in Missouri, where a federal judge blocked the the president's vaccine mandate for health care workers in 10 states, saying the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, lacked the proper authority to enact such a sweeping policy.
“The nature and breadth of the CMS mandate requires clear authorization from Congress,” U.S. District Judge Matthew T. Schelp wrote in his ruling Monday. “And Congress has provided none.”
The mandate, issued in early November, required the Covid-19 vaccine as a condition of employment for health care workers at facilities that receive funding from Medicare and Medicaid, including nursing homes and hospitals. Per the policy, estimated to apply to roughly 76,000 facilities and more than 17 million employees nationwide, eligible staff had to receive an initial dose of the vaccine by Dec. 6 and to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4.
Monday’s ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by 10 largely Republican states that argued that CMS did not have the authority to issue or implement the vaccine requirement. Schelp agreed, noting in his ruling that congressional lawmakers “did not clearly authorize CMS to enact this politically and economically vast, federalism-altering, and boundary-pushing mandate, which Supreme Court precedent requires.”
The suing states are Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. Leaders in those states applauded the Monday ruling, including Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who led the lawsuit.
“This is a huge victory for healthcare workers in Missouri and across the country, including rural hospitals who were facing near certain collapse due to this mandate,” Schmitt said in a statement. “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.”
The Mandate’s Pain
In his ruling Monday, Schelp cited several examples of facilities in Missouri that would be strained by the mandate, including the Scotland County Care Center, a rural nursing home where roughly a third of 65 employees had indicated they would resign rather than take the vaccine.
“A loss of 20 staff members will cause SCCC to “close its doors” and displace residents that have lived in that community their entire lives,” he wrote. “In sum, Plaintiffs’ evidence shows that facilities—rural facilities in particular—likely would face crisis standards of care or will have no choice but to close to new patients or close altogether, both of which would cause significant, and irreparable, harm to Plaintiffs’ citizens.”
In a statement, CMS told Reuters it would review the ruling, adding that unvaccinated health care workers pose a threat to patient safety.
The two rulings this week follow a separate court decision that halted the Biden administration’s vaccine requirement for businesses of 100 employees or more. The decisions come as the omicron variant of the virus continues to spread in other nations, prompting President Biden to double down on encouraging residents to either get vaccinated for the first time or receive a booster shot to revive immunity.
“The best protection against this new variant, or any of the variants out there...is getting fully vaccinated and getting a booster shot,” he said Monday.
This story was updated to include information about Tuesday's ruling.
Kate Elizabeth Queram is a senior reporter for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.