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AG Reyes Continues to Fight Healthcare Worker Vaccine Mandate

SALT LAKE CITY – Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes is continuing the fight to protect Utah healthcare workers, their patients, and employers from the Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate. In a new action filed today, AG Reyes and 15 other attorneys general asked a federal judge to block the federal government once again from enforcing the mandate in their respective states before it goes into effect. 

The unlawful mandate for facilities that receive Medicare or Medicaid funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is “causing havoc in the healthcare labor market” across the nation, according to HHS – especially in rural communities – and does not account for the pandemic’s changing circumstances.  

“Health care workers are exhausted and staff shortages are real,” said Attorney General Reyes.  “Rural Utah is especially vulnerable to the negative impacts of this government overreach.  At this point, people have made their own decision on whether to get vaccinated.  Even though I am fully vaccinated, I respect those who choose differently, and the government should too.”

The filing, which is the latest ongoing case against President Biden’s vaccine mandate for health care workers, seeks to stop the federal government from enforcing the mandate in Utah before the February 14 deadline by which workers at covered facilities must have received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine or have a pending or approved application for an exemption. 

According to data published by the AARP Public Policy Institute, nursing homes, and long-term care facilities are already facing the worst shortage of nurses and/or aides since the government began collecting this information from nursing homes in May 2020. Low staffing levels in nursing homes—particularly among registered nurses—are associated with worse outcomes for residents, including more COVID-19 cases, deaths, and a higher likelihood of outbreaks. The mandate will make these problems worse. 

Recognizing this workforce shortage and the untenable position in which it places covered healthcare facilities, federal guidance permits vaccinated employees who are testing positive for COVID-19 to return to work while prohibiting unvaccinated healthcare employees from working unless they obtain an exemption. 

As the milder Omicron variant now accounts for 99.9 percent of COVID-19 cases in the country, the Biden administration’s rationale for rushing the mandate without the legally required opportunity for the public to comment no longer exists. Additionally, merging research shows that standard COVID-19 vaccinations provide little protection against transmission of the Omicron variant, and federal authorities have begun to walk back prior claims about the efficacy of the vaccines against this now-dominant variant. 

Meanwhile, new guidance from the federal government issued after the U.S. Supreme Court decision imposes a brand-new vaccine mandate on state employees who survey and report whether Medicare and Medicaid facilities are complying with applicable regulations, including the mandate itself. This constitutes an “independent, substantive rule, and yet CMS failed utterly to comply with the procedures required by [federal law]” yet again, according to the filing.

The CMS COVID-19 vaccine mandate also violates the Tenth Amendment, the Spending Clause, the Anti-Commandeering Doctrine, and the Nondelegation Doctrine. 

The case number is 3:21-cv-03970 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana. It is being led by Montana, Arizona, and Louisiana. The other states joining are Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.

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