LITTLE ROCK, Ark — A federal judge on Monday, Nov. 29, blocked President Joe Biden's administration from enforcing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate on healthcare workers in 10 states. This is the first legal challenge against the federal requirement.
The court order says the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid (CMS) had no clear authority from Congress to enact the vaccine mandate for providers participating in the two government health care programs for the elderly, disabled and poor.
"It would require that all employees and regularly scheduled contractors would have had to have at least their first vaccine shot," said Rachel Bunch, executive director of the Arkansas Healthcare Association.
The preliminary injunction by St. Louis-based U.S. District Judge Matthew Schelp applies to a coalition of suing states that includes Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. Similar lawsuits also are pending in other states.
"There's likely to be an appeal of that order by higher courts,” said Nate Read, unemployment work attorney with Mitchell Williams Law Firm. “As high as the U.S Supreme Court to determine whether or not CMS authority to issue the rule would be valid."
Read believes action against the injection will take place soon "I would expect the preliminary injunction order to be appealed by the 8th circuit of appeals."
The federal rule requires COVID-19 vaccinations for more than 17 million workers nationwide in about 76,000 healthcare facilities and home healthcare providers that get funding from government health programs. The rule requires them to have the first dose no later than Dec. 6 and their second shot by Jan. 4, according to the Associated Press (AP).
The Arkansas Healthcare Association says the ruling is a relief because it will buy them more time and help keep them staffed.
“We continue to struggle with workforce issues, just like lots of other businesses and industries are,” Bunch said. “We have a number of employees that have not wanted to get the vaccine and have been hesitant."
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge was among other state leaders who helped block the vaccine mandate.
“President Biden has been stopped again by the swift legal action of my office,” Rutledge said. “President Biden’s illegal CMS vaccine mandate has no place in Arkansas. I will continue to protect Arkansans from having to decide between getting the shot or losing their job.”
Governor Asa Hutchinson released a statement saying the vaccine mandate would have had a "detrimental" impact on Arkansas hospitals and healthcare facilities. He says the mandate would lead to staff shortages across the state.
“I am thankful for the ruling issued today,” Gov. Hutchinson said. “Vaccine mandates are not the appropriate method to increase our vaccination rates, and the decision today shows that Arkansas is not alone in this position. My administration will continue to work with the Attorney General’s Office as this case moves to trial.”
While a judge ruled out the CMS requirement, that does not mean COVID-19 vaccine requirements for employees at Mercy and Washington Regional no longer apply.
"Employers have always had the opportunity to implement the mandate if they choose to do so," Read said.