A judge blocked the federal government on Monday from mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for health care workers in ten states.
U.S. District Judge Matthew Schelp in the Eastern District of Missouri wrote in his ruling that regulations handed down by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid earlier this month were issued improperly. The agency did not get approval from Congress to mandate vaccinations for health care workers, Schelp wrote, which he argued was necessary given the mandate’s “vast economic and political significance.” The rules were also issued without a standard period for public comment, which Schelp said the agency’s justification for was not suitable.
“Truly, the impact of this mandate reaches far beyond COVID,” Schelp wrote. “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. Such action challenges traditional notions of federalism.”
Schelp also labeled the mandate “arbitrary and capricious,” arguing that CMS “lacks evidence showing that vaccination status has a direct impact on spreading COVID” in the covered health care facilities; the agency has primarily pointed to data from long-term care facilities in its defense.
“No one questions that protecting patients and health care workers from contracting COVID is a laudable objective,” he wrote. “But the court cannot, in good faith, allow CMS to enact an unprecedented mandate that lacks a ‘rational connection between the facts found and the choice made.'”
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt led the lawsuit, alongside Nebraska, Arkansas, Kansas, Iowa, Wyoming, Alaska, South Dakota, North Dakota and New Hampshire. Schelp’s order blocks the federal government from requiring providers in those states to require vaccination for workers.
Schmitt, a Republican running for U.S. Senate, called the ruling a “huge victory for health care workers in Missouri and across the country, including rural hospitals who were facing near certain collapse due to this mandate.” Schmitt has been among the most vocal state-level opponents to Biden administration vaccine orders, also suing to block mandates for large private sector businesses and federal employees and contractors. Both of those mandates are under litigation in several courts, and the latter is currently blocked.