Gina Harper measures out the exact amount of the COVID-19 vaccine for a dose before it is administered to the first patients in Colorado at UCHealth Poudre Valley Hospital on Dec. 14, 2020, in Fort Collins. The first COVID-19 vaccines were administered in Colorado to front-line health care workers in Fort Collins and Colorado Springs. (Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post, Pool)
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.
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At issue is President Joe Biden’s campaign to ensure that workers throughout the country are vaccinated against COVID-19.
Many private sector employees will be 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, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt described the injunction as “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.”
“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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