Biden Administration’s Vaccine Policy for Health Care Workers Blocked Nationwide

Allen Smith, J.D. By Allen Smith, J.D. November 30, 2021
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A medical health care professional administering the vaccine

[Editor's note: The 5th Circuit has partially revived the vaccine directive for health care workers.]

On Nov. 30, a federal district court in Louisiana ruled that the directive for health care workers is temporarily blocked nationwide, following a decision on Nov. 29 from a federal district court in Missouri that blocked the Biden administration's vaccine directive for health care workers in 10 states. 

However, also on Nov. 29, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer denied a request from workers for a Massachusetts hospital system to suspend the system's COVID-19 vaccine requirement. We've gathered articles on the news from SHRM Online and other outlets.

States Argued the Directive Would Lead to Staffing Shortages

U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Schelp in Missouri appeared persuaded by the 10 states' argument that the mandate would lead to staffing shortages. "The scale falls clearly in favor of health care facilities operating with some unvaccinated employees, staff, trainees, students, volunteers and contractors, rather than the swift, irremediable impact of requiring health care facilities to choose between two undesirable choices—providing substandard care or providing no health care at all," Schelp wrote in a 32-page order.

(The Hill)

Federal Government Overreach?

In a lawsuit filed Nov. 10 against the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), 10 states—Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming—claimed that the federal government has overreached its authority to dictate what happens in their states. "This case illustrates why the police power over compulsory vaccination has always been the province of—and still properly belongs to—the states," they said in the lawsuit. 

(The New York Times

Judge: Congressional Approval Needed to Require Vaccinations

The CMS did not get approval from Congress to require vaccinations for health care workers, Schelp wrote. He asserted this was necessary given the directive's "vast economic and political significance." He also noted the rules were issued without a standard period for public comment. 

"CMS seeks to overtake an area of traditional state authority by imposing an unprecedented demand to federally dictate the private medical decisions of millions of Americans," the judge wrote. "Such action challenges traditional notions of federalism."

(Springfield News-Leader)

Health Care Providers Preparing for Staff Shortages

Some hospitals, nursing homes and other health care providers are preparing to operate without up to one-third of their staff at the start of next year if those workers don't comply with the federal vaccine directive.

(The Wall Street Journal)

Louisiana District Court Judge's Opinion

"There is no question that mandating a vaccine to 10.3 million health care workers is something that should be done by Congress, not a government agency," Judge Terry Doughty of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana wrote. He added, "It is not clear that even an act of Congress mandating a vaccine would be constitutional."

(The New York Times)


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Unvaccinated Workers at Houston Methodist Resigned or Were Fired

More than 150 Houston Methodist employees resigned or were fired earlier this year after the hospital system required that they get a COVID-19 vaccine to remain employed. The employees had two weeks to get the vaccine after they were suspended on June 8 for not following the policy. On June 12, a judge dismissed a lawsuit some workers had filed against Houston Methodist regarding its vaccine requirement.

(SHRM Online)

Some Workers Were Fired Due to Requirement

Eight current and former employees of the Mass General Brigham hospital network filed the appeal. They asked the Supreme Court to block the hospital system from enforcing its COVID-19 vaccine requirement and order the employer to rehire workers who were fired due to noncompliance with the policy. The nonprofit hospital system said in a statement that 430 employees were fired for not complying with the policy. The company said vaccination "is the most important and responsible step each of us can take to put an end to this devastating pandemic and protect patients, families and each other."

(Forbes) and (Newsweek)

Workers' Claims

The workers claimed that Mass General Brigham violated their rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act by enforcing the vaccine requirement without accommodation, something they claim has been offered to other employees. The employees asserted that the policy violates their religious beliefs or places them in "significant physical or mental danger."

(Courthouse News Service)

Vaccination Requirement Announced in June

The hospital system announced in June that it would require vaccinations. It set up committees to review individual requests for exemptions based on medical or religious objections. About half of those objecting were given exemptions. The workers said the fact that the hospital "is already accommodating hundreds of other employees conclusively refutes [the hospital's] mere assertions that it would cause an undue hardship to accommodate further exemptions or additional unvaccinated employees."

(NBC News)

Other Challenges Rejected

Breyer's order came after the Supreme Court recently rejected challenges to vaccine requirements by Maine health workers, New York City public school teachers and students at Indiana University. In the challenge of the policy for Maine health workers, the employees contested the policy because it does not include a religious exemption.

(The Hill), (SHRM Online) and (NBC News)

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Asking Vaccination Status

The Department of Health & Human Services has clarified the HIPAA Privacy Rule does not prohibit an employer from requesting an employee’s vaccination status as part of the terms and conditions of employment.

The Department of Health & Human Services has clarified the HIPAA Privacy Rule does not prohibit an employer from requesting an employee’s vaccination status as part of the terms and conditions of employment.

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