Factbox - COVID-19 and the U.S. courts: challenges to vaccine requirements

FILE PHOTO: A nurse prepares a Pfizer BioNTech coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination as part of a vaccine drive by the Fernandeno Tataviam Band of Mission Indians in Arleta, Los Angeles
·3 min read

By Tom Hals

(Reuters) - The Biden administration announced on Sept. 9 steps that will require tens of millions of Americans who have declined COVID-19 vaccines to get a shot as infection rates remain elevated https://tmsnrt.rs/2WTOZDR, straining hospitals and weighing on economic growth.

Already, universities, local governments and businesses have mandated vaccinates for employees and students, which has prompted lawsuits.

Below are some key cases.

1) Employees fighting mandates and termination

Many large U.S. employers have announced mandates, including Walmart Inc, Google's parent company Alphabet Inc and the federal government.

Legal experts have said requiring vaccines is one way an employer can meet its duty to reduce workplace hazards such as COVID-19.

The cases against private businesses generally allege that mandates violate the right to bodily integrity under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.

So far, the lawsuits have failed to gain traction.

A federal judge in Houston on June 12 ruled in favor of Houston Methodist Hospital and dismissed a case by 117 workers who alleged the hospital was violating Texas's wrongful termination law by linking their job to a COVID-19 shot. The judge determined the mandate did not violate public policy or amount to coercion.

2) Challenges to mandates for students and teachers

More than 500 colleges and universities have imposed vaccine requirements and many have been challenged in court, sometimes for denying student requests to refuse the vaccine on religious grounds.

In the most detailed ruling, a federal judge said Indiana University acted reasonably to protect public health by requiring vaccines, or masking and testing, and declined to issue an injunction blocking the requirements. The judge said students could choose to attend a different school or postpone their education if they did not want to take a vaccine.

Federal courts in similar cases have sided with the University of Massachusetts and University of Connecticut.

3) Lawsuits over state vaccine requirements

At least 24 states have directed some healthcare workers to get COVID-19 vaccines, sparking legal challenges.

Local governments ranging from Los Angeles to North Charleston, South Carolina, also have been sued over vaccines requirements imposed on their employees. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was sued over a requirement that customers prove they have had a COVID-19 shot before entering restaurants, theaters and gyms.

There have only been preliminary rulings, as many cases were filed in recent weeks.

A federal judge in Albany temporarily ordered New York state officials to allow religious exemptions for a state-imposed vaccine mandate on healthcare workers, which begins to take effect on Sept. 27.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd convinced a federal judge in Miami on Aug. 8 to prevent Florida officials from enforcing a state ban on "vaccine passports." The ruling allowed the cruise line to require passengers boarding its ships in Florida to prove they had been vaccinated, without fear the company would be fined by state officials.

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Lisa Shumaker)

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