A judge on Monday blocked the federal government from requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for healthcare workers in ten states.
U.S. District Judge Matthew Schelp in the Eastern District of Missouri wrote in his ruling that regulations issued by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid earlier this month were incorrectly published. The agency did not get congressional approval to mandate vaccination of healthcare workers, Schelp wrote, which he said was necessary given the mandate’s “vast economic and political importance”. The rules were also published without a standard period for public comment, for which Schelp said the agency’s rationale was not appropriate.
“Really, the impact of this mandate goes way beyond COVID,” Schelp wrote. “CMS seeks to move beyond an area of traditional state authority by imposing an unprecedented demand to dictate federally the private medical decisions of millions of Americans. Such action calls into question traditional notions of federalism. “
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Schelp also called the mandate “arbitrary and capricious”, arguing that CMS “lacks evidence showing that vaccination status has a direct impact on the spread of COVID” in health facilities covered; the agency primarily relied on data from long-term care facilities in its defense.
“No one is questioning that protecting patients and healthcare workers from COVID is a laudable goal,” he wrote. “But the tribunal cannot, in good faith, allow CMS to promulgate an unprecedented mandate which lacks a ‘rational connection between the facts found and the choice made’.”
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt led the trial, alongside Nebraska, Arkansas, Kansas, Iowa, Wyoming, Alaska, South Dakota, North Dakota and from New Hampshire. Schelp’s order prevents the federal government from requiring providers in those states to require vaccination of workers.
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Schmitt, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, called the move a “huge victory for healthcare workers in Missouri and across the country, including rural hospitals that faced an almost certain collapse as a result of this tenure. “. Schmitt has been among the most vocal state-level opponents of the Biden administration’s vaccine orders, also suing to block the mandates of large private sector companies and federal employees and contractors. These two mandates are the subject of litigation before several courts, and the latter is currently blocked.
The workforces of many of Missouri’s largest healthcare providers are almost fully vaccinated against COVID-19, due to internal demands issued earlier this year. Mercy, which employs 40,000 people and has facilities statewide, said on Oct. 28 that 100 percent of staff were fully immunized. Springfield-based CoxHealth said in late September that 85% of its 12,500 employees had received at least one dose or been given an extension to get vaccinated. “Less than two percent” of Mercy’s workforce has not been vaccinated and about 50 Cox employees have resigned as a result of his tenure.
Missouri ranks last in the country for the percentage of nursing home staff vaccinated against COVID – currently at 58.77%, according to data compiled by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid.
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Galen Bacharier covers Missouri politics and government for the News-Leader. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, (573) 219-7440 or on Twitter @galenbacharier.