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Federal vaccine mandate for health care workers in 10 states, including Kansas, blocked by judge

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 Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and New Hampshire.

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The others are North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Arkansas, Wyoming and Alaska.

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.

“I continue to encourage Kansans to be vaccinated, but that personal health care decision should be made by each individual and not mandated by any federal government agency,” Schmidt said. “This overreaching, one-size-fits-all mandate would further disrupt and impede the efforts of health care facilities and their employees all across Kansas to provide the care Kansans expect and deserve.”

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,” wrote Schelp, who was nominated by President Donald Trump in 2019, 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, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said he encouraged vaccination for Kansans, but “that personal health care decision should be made by each individual and not mandated by any federal government agency.”

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“This overreaching, one-size-fits-all mandate would further disrupt and impede the efforts of health care facilities and their employees all across Kansas to provide the care Kansans expect and deserve,” Schmidt 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.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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