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10 states sue Biden administration over COVID-19 vaccine requirement for health care workers

Appeals court halts COVID-19 vaccine mandate
Appeals court halts COVID-19 vaccine mandate 00:30

Washington — A group of 10 states is taking the Biden administration to federal court over its new rule requiring health care workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19, claiming the requirement violates the Constitution and federal law governing the agency rule-making process.

Led by Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt and Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson, the states argue that the vaccine requirement will compound shortages of health care workers, particularly in rural areas, and threatens the jobs of "millions" of health care workers who put their lives at risk in the initial days of the pandemic. 

"This case illustrates why the police power over compulsory vaccination has always been the province of — and still properly belongs to — the states," the states argued in their complaint filed with a federal district court in St. Louis. "Vaccination requirements are matters that depends on local factors and conditions. Whatever might make sense in New York City, St. Louis, or Omaha could be decidedly counterproductive and harmful in rural communities like Memphis, Missouri or McCook, Nebraska."

"Federalism allows states to tailor such matters in the best interests of their communities. The heavy hand of [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services'] nationwide mandate does not," they continued.

President Biden announced the requirement in September, which was part of a broader effort from his administration to boost vaccination rates amid a surge of infections driven by the Delta variant. Under the new rule, published November 5, health care workers at facilities that receive funding through Medicare and Medicaid must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Employees at many of the sites do not currently have the option of undergoing daily or weekly testing instead of getting immunized against COVID-19.

The requirement will impact an estimated 2.4 million workers who still require shots, according to the Biden administration, and they have until January 4 to do so.

The states, though, argued the requirement will have "devastating effects on healthcare services" in their states, with rural communities hit the hardest. Officials from the coalition are asking the court to block the Biden administration from imposing the vaccine rule on health care workers.

"If the CMS vaccine mandate drives out enough employees from particular facilities, those facilities might be forced to close certain divisions, cancel certain services or shutter altogether," they told the court.

The states challenging the vaccine rule for health care workers are: Missouri, Nebraska, Arkansas, Kansas, Iowa, Wyoming, Alaska, South Dakota, North Dakota and New Hampshire.

The vaccine measures announced by Mr. Biden in September have been a target of Republican-led states —namely a rule requiring employees at large companies must be vaccinated — that argue the administration is overreaching and agencies exceeding their authority. Under the broader requirement from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, workers at companies with more than 100 employees must be vaccinated by January 4 or comply with face mask requirements and weekly testing.

Eleven states on Friday filed suit against the Biden administration over its vaccine requirement for workers. Then, on Saturday, a federal appeals court in New Orleans temporarily halted the requirement in response to a separate challenge to the rule brought by private businesses and five other states.

In its decision, a three-judge panel from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals cited potential "grave statutory and constitutional issues" raised.

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