Countries challenge Biden’s mandate for a vaccine for health workers

The Biden administration claims that federal rules are replacing state policies that ban vaccine mandates and are necessary to slow the pandemic, which has killed more than 755,000 people in the United States, but the New Orleans-based Fifth U.S. Court of Appeals has already temporarily blocked a commercial vaccine. The rule, saying it raises “serious legal and constitutional issues.”

A separate rule issued last week by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services requires COVID-19 vaccinations for more than 17 million workers in about 76,000 health care facilities and home health care providers that receive funding from state health programs.

The new lawsuit asserts that the demand for a CMS vaccine is unprecedented and unreasonably broad, affecting even volunteers and staff who do not normally work with patients.

“The authorization is a blatant attempt to federalize public health issues involving vaccinations that belong in the authority of the states police,” said the lawsuit, brought by Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmidt, a Republican running for the US Senate.

The lawsuit was joined by prosecutors in Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. All are Republicans except for Democratic Attorney General Tom Miller of Iowa, whose state is led by Republican Governor Kim Reynolds.

A CMS spokesperson declined to comment on the lawsuit.

As the drive for Medicare and Medicaid programs, the federal government already requires providers to comply with a range of quality, health, and safety requirements.

“It seems very easy to me to have a vaccination requirement fit in with the very diverse conditions of participation in gardens,” said Sidney Watson, director of the Center for Health Law Studies at Saint Louis University.

While announcing the rule, CMS said requirements for a COVID-19 vaccine by private health systems and previous vaccine mandates by states for other diseases did not lead to widespread resignations of health care workers.

But the lawsuit maintains that many health workers are more likely to be fired, retire or quit smoking rather than get vaccinated against COVID-19, which it said “endangers the health care interests of rural Americans.”

The lawsuit points to concerns from rural hospital administrators in Missouri and Nebraska. For example, it says Great Plains Health in North Platte, Nebraska, is able to hire only about 70 of its 116 beds due to a workforce shortage and has received notice from the majority of employees in its behavioral health unit that they will quit rather than be vaccinated.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Routledge said the Arkansas Department of Human Services has more than 1,000 job openings at its health care facilities, and the vaccine mandate will exacerbate the labor shortage.

Workplace vaccine mandates have recently become more popular and have generally resulted in significant compliance.

In New York City, more than 90% of city employees received the vaccine before the mandate began on November 1. But the New York Times reported that about 9,000 people took paid leave for non-compliance and thousands more requested religious or medical waivers.

In the private sector, United Airlines recently requested that 67,000 American employees receive vaccinations or face termination. Only a few hundred refused to do so, although about 2,000 requested waivers. In August, Tyson Foods told its 120,000 American workers that they should be vaccinated by November 1. As of last week, the company said more than 96% of its workforce had been vaccinated, including 60,500 people who received vaccinations after the August announcement.

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Writer Jeff Mulvihill contributed to the Associated Press from Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

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