Biden admin.'s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for healthcare workers blocked in 10 states

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the COVID-19 response and the vaccination program at the White House on Aug. 23, 2021, in Washington, D.C.
U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the COVID-19 response and the vaccination program at the White House on Aug. 23, 2021, in Washington, D.C. | JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

A federal judge appointed by President Donald Trump has blocked the enforcement of a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for healthcare workers in 10 states, a legal setback for the Biden administration.

Judge Matthew Schelp of the Eastern District of Missouri issued the preliminary injunction on Monday for healthcare workers in Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, New Hampshire, Nebraska, Wyoming, North Dakota and South Dakota.

At issue were vaccine mandates for healthcare workers who work in facilities that accepted Medicaid or Medicare.

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Schelp concluded that the states suing the federal government were likely to succeed in their legal arguments, claiming that the government’s mandate was an overreach.

“The Court finds that in balancing the equities, the scale falls clearly in favor of healthcare facilities operating with some unvaccinated employees, staff, trainees, students, volunteers, and contractors, rather than the swift, irremediable impact of requiring healthcare facilities to choose between two undesirable choices — providing substandard care or providing no healthcare at all,” wrote Schelp.

“[T]he public would benefit from the preliminary injunction because it would ensure that federal agencies do not extend their power beyond the express delegation from Congress, as already discussed.”

Schelp, who was appointed to the bench in 2019, declared that Congress "did not clearly authorize" Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service "to enact the this politically and economically vast, federalism-altering, and boundary-pushing mandate, which
Supreme Court precedent requires."

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who represents one of the states involved in the lawsuit, celebrated the preliminary injunction.

“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,” stated Schmitt 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.”

In September, President Joe Biden announced that his administration would implement COVID-19 vaccination mandates for government employees, the military, private entities that contract with the government and healthcare facilities that accept Medicare or Medicaid.

The mandates also require businesses with at least 100 employees to require all staff to get vaccinated against the coronavirus or have them produce at least one negative COVID test each week.

“This is not about freedom or personal choice,” stated Biden at the time. “It’s about protecting yourself and those around you — the people you work with, the people you care about, the people you love.”

“What more do you need to see? We’ve made vaccinations free, safe, and convenient. The vaccine has FDA approval. Over 200 million Americans have gotten at least one shot. We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin.”

In early November, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued a per curiam decision that temporarily blocked the vaccine mandate for businesses with at least 100 employees.

“Because the petitions give cause to believe there are grave statutory and constitutional issues with the Mandate, the Mandate is hereby STAYED pending further action by this court,” ruled the panel.

The preliminary injunction comes as the Biden administration has reportedly told federal agencies to hold off on punishing employees who refuse to get vaccinated until after the holidays. 

ABC News reported Monday about a memo by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget calling for a delay in suspending or firing federal workers who do not comply with the mandate.

The OMB reports that 96.5% of federal workers have either gotten at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, have an approved exemption or are in the process of getting an exemption.

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