A federal appeals court has reinstated in 26 states a Biden administration vaccination mandate for health workers at hospitals that receive federal funding.
A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled (PDF) that a lower court had the authority to block the mandate in only the 14 states that had sued and was wrong to impose a nationwide injunction.
It marks a modest win for the Biden administration’s pandemic strategy following a series of legal setbacks to the health worker vaccine mandate. Numerous lawsuits have been filed seeking to block vaccine mandates issued by governments and businesses as public health measures amid a pandemic that has killed more than 800,000 Americans.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced in early November that it would be requiring applicable healthcare facilities to have a policy in place ensuring that eligible staff receive their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine series by Dec. 5 and to have completed their series by Jan. 4, 2022. Failure to comply with the requirement, which covers 17 million healthcare workers, would place an organization’s Medicare funding in jeopardy.
But the mandate was blocked before the deadline and remains temporarily blocked in 24 states: the 14 states involved in the case reviewed by the New Orleans appeals court and 10 states where the mandate was blocked by a Nov. 29 ruling from a federal judge in St. Louis.
The 14 states that sued are Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah and West Virginia.
In the lawsuits, states argued that CMS exceeded its authority with the rule and did not have good cause to forego the required notice and comment period. States that sued the Biden administration over the vaccine mandate also cited the ongoing workforce shortages affecting healthcare providers in their states.
In explaining its ruling, the 5th Circuit noted that the Louisiana-based federal judge had given “little justification for issuing an injunction outside the 14 states that brought this suit.”
As it stands, the vaccine requirement for Medicare and Medicaid providers is blocked by courts in about half of U.S. states but not in the other half, creating the potential for patchwork enforcement across the country.
Healthcare associations, individual experts and the Biden administration have all stood firm on the importance of vaccination mandates, with the novel omicron variant only adding to the president’s urgency to get shots in arms.
However, the administration’s broader requirements have so far faced stiff competition from courts as well as right-leaning lawmakers and governors alike.
The Supreme Court this week also blocked a challenge to New York’s requirement that healthcare workers be vaccinated against COVID-19 even when they cite religious objections.