The decision allows the vaccine mandate to take effect in healthcare settings, but not in large businesses under a separate federal rule.
The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the federal government can enforce a final rule mandating healthcare workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 while cases challenging the mandate are being appealed.
In a 5 to 4 decision, the Supreme Court agreed that the final rule mandating the vaccine for healthcare workers in facilities participating in Medicare and/or Medicaid “fits neatly within” the authority Congress has granted to HHS to impose conditions on federal funds.
“After all, ensuring that providers take steps to avoid transmitting a dangerous virus to their patients is consistent with the fundamental principle of the medical profession: first, do no harm,” an opinion released alongside the decision stated. “It would be the ‘very opposite of efficient and effective administration for a facility that is supposed to make people well to make them sick with COVID–19.’”
The final rule originally required healthcare workers to have at least their first shot by Dec. 6, 2021, and be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4, 2022, unless workers had medical or religious reasons for exemption. HHS estimated that the rule would impact approximately 10.3 million people working in hospitals and other healthcare settings.
Several states challenged the final rule and eventually won their cases, with the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri and the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana issuing preliminary injunctions against the implementation of the vaccine mandate in states involved in the cases.
HHS suspended enforcement of the vaccine mandate for healthcare workers in light of the court decisions, but later reinstated the mandate in all states not involved in the cases. Currently, the government is enforcing the mandate in about half of the states, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.
The federal department also updated compliance deadlines, requiring Medicare and Medicaid facilities to have their staff vaccinated with the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by Jan. 27, 2022. Staff must be up to date on COVID-19 immunization by Feb. 28, 2022.
In a statement Thursday, the American Hospital Association (AHA) said it will work with hospitals to comply with the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
“Now that the Supreme Court ruling has lifted the ban on the CMS vaccine mandate, the AHA will work with the hospital field to find ways to comply that balances that requirement with the need to retain a sufficient workforce to meet the needs of their patients,” stated Rick Pollack, AHA president, and CEO.
“[W]e urge any [healthcare] providers that are not subject to the CMS requirement to continue their efforts to achieve high levels of vaccination. We must continue to work together as a field to use vaccines as the powerful tool that they are to protect everyone in our communities,” Pollack continued.