10 States Block Health Worker Vaccine 11/30 06:15
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- A federal judge on Monday blocked President Joe
Biden's administration from enforcing a coronavirus vaccine mandate on
thousands of health care workers in 10 states that had brought the first legal
challenge against the requirement.
The court order said that the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid had no
clear authority from Congress to enact the vaccine mandate for providers
participating in the two government health care programs for the elderly,
disabled and poor.
The preliminary injunction by St. Louis-based U.S. District Judge Matthew
Schelp applies to a coalition of suing states that includes Alaska, Arkansas,
Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and
Wyoming. All those states have either a Republican attorney general or
governor. Similar lawsuits also are pending in other states.
The federal rule requires COVID-19 vaccinations for more than 17 million
workers nationwide in about 76,000 health care facilities and home health care
providers that get funding from the government health programs. Workers are to
receive their first dose by Dec. 6 and their second shot by Jan. 4.
The court order against the health care vaccine mandate comes after Biden's
administration suffered a similar setback for a broader policy. A federal court
previously placed a hold on a separate rule requiring businesses with more than
100 employees to ensure their workers get vaccinated or else wear masks and get
tested weekly for the coronavirus.
Biden's administration contends federal rules supersede state policies
prohibiting vaccine mandates and are essential to slowing the pandemic, which
has killed more than 775,000 people in the U.S. About three-fifths of the U.S.
population already is fully vaccinated.
But the judge in the health care provider case wrote that federal officials
likely overstepped their legal powers.
"CMS seeks to overtake an area of traditional state authority by imposing an
unprecedented demand to federally dictate the private medical decisions of
millions of Americans. Such action challenges traditional notions of
federalism," Schelp wrote in his order.
Even under an exceedingly broad interpretation of federal powers, Congress
did not clearly authorize CMS to enact "this politically and economically vast,
federalism-altering, and boundary-pushing mandate," wrote Schelp, who was
appointed to the bench by former President Donald Trump.
While a vaccine requirement might make sense for long-term care facilities,
Schelp wrote, CMS lacks evidence for imposing it on other health care providers
and ignored evidence that the mandate could jeopardize understaffed facilities.
The judge also said CMS improperly bypassed public notice and comment
requirements when issuing the emergency rule, which "feeds into the very
vaccine hesitancy CMS acknowledges is so daunting."
A CMS spokesperson said the agency was reviewing the court order.
"Staff in any health care setting who remain unvaccinated pose both direct
and indirect threats to patient safety and population health," CMS said in a
statement Monday. "That is why it is critical for health care providers to
ensure their staff are vaccinated against COVID-19."
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who spearheaded the lawsuit, said
the ruling "pushes back on the overreach of power" by those who are "using the
coronavirus as a tool" for control over people.
Officials in several states also praised the court ruling. New Hampshire
Gov. Chris Sununu said "nursing homes were at risk of closure" if the mandate
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said the vaccine is the best defense against
COVID-19, but medical providers "deserve the freedom and ability to make their
own informed health care decisions."