Federal judge SUSPENDS Biden's January 4 vaccine mandate

Federal judge SUSPENDS Biden’s vaccine mandate for health workers in ten states due to start Jan 4 – with 6.6million workers still unvaccinated

  • Missouri-based District Judge Matthew Schelp, a Trump appointee, temporarily halted the Biden’s Administration’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate in ten states
  • Healthcare workers employed by federally-backed hospitals in these states won’t need to get the COVID-19 by the Biden’s Administration January 4 deadline
  • In other states, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services requires fully vaccinated staff at federally-backed healthcare facilities by the start of next year
  • President Joe Biden in September directed the agency to put policies in place for staff vaccination requirements as part of his administration’s vaccine strategy
  • The administration estimates the mandate will apply to more than 17 million healthcare workers at roughly 76,000 facilities nationwide
  • Two dozen states are challenging the mandate in court and are also reviewing requests for religious exemptions from the rule or firing unvaccinated workers
  • Thirty percent of workers at more than 2,000 hospitals across the US were unvaccinated in September, according to the CDC
  • If applied to the estimated 22 million of total medical workers across the country, then that would equal nearly seven million unvaccinated employees

Missouri-based US District Judge Matthew Schelp, a Trump appointee, ruled in the ten states’ favor to halt healthcare workers at federally-backed hospitals from being fully-vaccinated by January 4

A federal court on Monday temporarily blocked the Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health workers employed at hospitals that receive funding from the federal government. 

The ruling was made by a federal judge in Missouri and it applies to healthcare workers in ten different states that filed lawsuits to permanently block the Biden Administration’s rule that has been put into effect since November 5.  

Those states include Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.

U.S. District Judge Matthew Schelp, appointed by former President Donald Trump, leaned towards the states’ argument that President Biden’s mandate would cause staffing shortages.  

‘The scale falls clearly in favor of healthcare facilities operating with some unvaccinated employees, staff, trainees, students, volunteers and contractors, rather than the swift, irremediable impact of requiring healthcare facilities to choose between two undesirable choices — providing substandard care or providing no healthcare at all,’ Schelp wrote in a 32-page legislative order. 

The judge’s decision comes as a temporary relief to non-vaccinated workers who work at Medicaid-sponsored health care facilities in the ten states. These facilities will also feel less obligated to fire part of their staff until a permanent solution is found.  

President Joe Biden (pictured) ordered The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to put policies in place for staff vaccination requirements as part of his administration’s nationwide vaccine strategy

Healthcare workers protesting outside St. Joseph Mercy Oakland Hospital, Michigan, after the recent announcement by Trinity Health and Henry Ford Health systems that requires nurses and other health workers under their employment to receive the Coronavirus Vaccine.

In other states, hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare providers across the US are bracing to potentially lose up to a third of staff if workers don’t comply with President Joe Biden’s federal vaccine mandate.  

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will call for all employees at Medicare and Medicaid-sponsored healthcare facilities to get the COVID vaccine by January 4. 

President Joe Biden in September ordered the agency to come up with policies for staff vaccination requirements as part of its efforts to boost immunity across the nation.  The Biden Administration estimates the mandate will apply to more than 17 million healthcare workers at roughly 76,000 facilities nationwide.

At least 30 percent of workers at more than 2,000 hospitals across the US were unvaccinated in September, according to a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If applied to the estimated 22 million of total medical workers across the country, then that would be equal to nearly seven million unvaccinated employees 

More than two dozen states have already filed lawsuits challenging the rule in court, setting up a high stakes legal showdown pitting federal authority against states’ rights.

Many medical facilities in those states are also reviewing requests for religious and medical exemptions from the requirement or laying off unvaccinated workers. 

Hospitals and recruiters in 40 states face a battle to keep their staff numbers up while persuading unvaccinated employees to get the vaccine in coming weeks prior to the January 4 deadline

What do we know about the Omicron variant? 

Scientists have said they are concerned about the B.1.1.529 variant, named by the World Health Organisation as Omicron, as it has around 30 different mutations – double the amount present in the Delta variant. The mutations contain features seen in all of the other variants but also traits that have not been seen before. 

UK scientists first became aware of the new strain on November 23 after samples were uploaded on to a coronavirus variant tracking website from South Africa, Hong Kong and then Botswana. 

On Friday, it was confirmed that cases had been identified in Israel and Belgium but currently there are no known cases in the UK.

Professor Adam Finn, a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI), told Good Morning Britain on Friday that sequencing is being carried out around the UK to determine if any cases have already been imported. 

Work is also under way to see whether the new variant may be causing new infection in people who have already had coronavirus or a vaccine, or whether waning immunity may be playing a role.  

Professor James Naismith, director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute in Oxford, has said the new variant will ‘almost certainly’ make vaccines less effective, though they would still offer protection.

Pfizer/BioNTech, which has produced a vaccine against Covid-19, is already studying the new variant’s ability to evade vaccines. 

However, some healthcare providers are playing hardball on granting exemptions, as they encourage more workers to get vaccinated. Others are more open-minded and even seeing it as an opportunity to hire workers whose request for exemption have been denied. 

bout 17 million medical workers in the US are employed at facilities that receive funding from the federal Medicare and Medicaid programs, according to the CMS. Earlier this month, President Briden made future reimbursement possible to all employees who are eligible for vaccination by the mandate’s deadline.

Hospitals and recruiters are adamant that a combination of approved exemptions and more workers electing to receive the vaccinate in the next two months should relieve the pressure of possibly facing an operational threat. 

Medical facilities in the country’s most urban areas, however, do not expect to face operational disruptions. But in some rural communities, the possibility of losing employees can crimp a facility’s way to manage patients, doctors and hospital operators said.  

Clark Fork Valley Hospital and Family Medicine Network in Plains, Montana, is one of many medical facilities facing staff shortages, come January. Doctor Nick Lawyer, who practices family medicine there, said that the facility won’t be able to provide basic medical care in an area 90 miles from any larger medical centers if more of its staff doesn’t chose to vaccinate against COVID-19 between now and January 4. 

‘It would mean a tremendous reduction in service,’ he said.

As of today, only about 55 percent of the hospital’s 200 employees are vaccinated, Dr Lawyer said, even after hospital leaders held informative talks on the benefits of the vaccine, in an effort to get more of staff inoculated. The full vaccination rate in the hospital’s area, Sanders County, is about 36 percent. 

About 85 percent of the hospital’s budget comes from governmental funding Dr Lawyer added. He said that the hospital would possibly make allowance for more exemptions, if its number of staff significantly drops, although it remains uncertain as to whether it would be enough to retain the necessary amount of employees to avoid service cutbacks.

Clark Fork Valley Hospital (pictured) in Plains, Montana, is one of many hospitals in suburban areas that will most likely see its staff numbers fall after the January 4 deadline, potentially leaving the community with less access to medical aid

Supporters of healthcare workers in Whittier, California, protest to express concern about hospital staffing shortages and their rights to religious exemption from the COVID-19 vaccine

Advocacy groups for religious freedom including Liberty Counsel, Thomas More Society and the Center for American Liberty said they have received thousands of requests, asking for assistance on obtaining religious exemptions.

The groups have also filed lawsuits on behalf of healthcare workers challenging the vaccine mandate. 

Condon McGlothlon, a partner and employment-law specialist at Seyfarth Shaw LLP, told the Wall Street Journal that no one could have anticipated the high-number of requests and that medical facilities are weighing the decision of firing unvaccinated workers, or keeping them on board and risking the health of other employees if they stay.

In areas where vaccine mandates are in effect, vaccination rates have risen by 20 percentage points, according to a recent White House report. And, before President Biden’s CMS mandate, more than 2,500 hospitals, 40 percent of the total amount in the US, had set their own vaccination requisites for employees, the report read.

‘We did this months ago,’ Houston Methodist Chief Executive Officer Marc L. Boom told the Journal. 

The high vaccination rate among staff at Houston Methodist helped the hospital overcome last summer’s surge driven by the Delta variant

The US is nearing the 780,000 COVID-19 fatalities since the pandemic started and the confirmed amount of positive cases amount to more than 48 million

About 85 percent of more than 26,000 employees at Houston Methodist have been vaccinated since the hospital’s own mandate began in March. The hospital’s leaders said they will attempt to persuade the remaining 15  percent to get vaccinated or to file for medical and religious exemptions. Many who decided to protect themselves against the flu by receiving the yearly shot in previous years applied for religious exemption from the Covid-19 vaccine, but they were largely denied. 

Less than one percent of staff chose to leave rather than abide by the hospital’s rules, Dr Boom said, including nurses, respiratory therapists, accountants and IT staffers. He said the hospital’s high vaccination rate among current staff helped cover them throughout last summer’s surge, mostly driven by the high amount of Delta variant cases.

However, some facilities with significant staffing shortages are showing signs of saturation. In New York, which set a September 27 deadline for medical employees to get their first vaccine dose, upstate Lewis County Health System recently put a pause on maternity services because of the number of its employees choosing not to get vaccinated. New York is also one of the few states that is not allowing religious exemptions, a stance that has been challenged in court. In November, a federal judge ruled that the state must grant these exemptions until the lawsuits are settled.

Another state not accepting religious exemptions for medical employees is Maine. The state’s Health Care Association said five nursing homes and one assisted-living facility have shut down since the statewide mandate for healthcare workers took effect in August. The association estimates that up to 10 percent of nursing-home workers will leave rather than seek inoculation. 

Healthcare workers who seek religious accommodation for getting the vaccine plan to file lawsuits against the state, which has already been experiencing a significant shortage of healthcare workers before the start of the pandemic. And despite the high vaccination rate (above 95 percent) in most of the state’s hospitals, operating with even a lesser number of staff has reduced medical access in obsolete parts of the state. 

Garth Berenyi, a former executive director at a nursing home in the state, was fired last month after he declined to get vaccinated. He said his next job would likely be in another state that doesn’t have as stricts rules as Maine. His reason for not opting to get the vaccine lie with the aborted fetal cell lines used in the testing of the shots. All three Covid-19 vaccines in the US, including Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, include aborted fetal cell lines that were collected decades ago. 

‘My conviction is clear. I’d be sinning if I did that. It goes against every fiber in my being,’ Berenyi said.        

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