A federal judge blocked the federal government on Monday from mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for health care workers in South Dakota and nine other states.
U.S. District Judge Matthew Schelp in the Eastern District of Missouri wrote in his ruling that regulations handed down by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services earlier this month were issued improperly. The agency did not get approval from Congress to mandate vaccinations for health care workers, Schelp wrote, which he argued was necessary given the mandate's "vast economic and political significance." The rules were also issued without a standard period for public comment, which Schelp said the agency's justification for was not suitable.
"Truly, the impact of this mandate reaches far beyond COVID," Schelp wrote. "CMS seeks to overtake an area of traditional state authority by imposing an unprecedented demand to federally dictate the private medical decisions of millions of Americans. Such action challenges traditional notions of federalism."
Schelp also labeled the mandate "arbitrary and capricious," arguing that CMS "lacks evidence showing that vaccination status has a direct impact on spreading COVID" in the covered health care facilities; the agency has primarily pointed to data from long-term care facilities in its defense.
"No one questions that protecting patients and health care workers from contracting COVID is a laudable objective," he wrote. "But the court cannot, in good faith, allow CMS to enact an unprecedented mandate that lacks a 'rational connection between the facts found and the choice made.'"
Monday's ruling does not stop health care providers from requiring its workers to get vaccinated. Sanford Health announced mandatory vaccines in July, setting a Nov. 1 deadline to get vaccinated or an exemption. Following that deadline, the system announced that 99% of its 44,000 had complied. A similar deadline of Dec. 1 has been set by Avera Health, which employs 20,000.
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt led the lawsuit, alongside Nebraska, Arkansas, Kansas, Iowa, Wyoming, Alaska, South Dakota, North Dakota and New Hampshire.
Schmitt, a Republican running for U.S. Senate, called the ruling a "huge victory for health care workers in Missouri and across the country, including rural hospitals who were facing near certain collapse due to this mandate." Schmitt has been among the most vocal state-level opponents to Biden administration vaccine orders, also suing to block mandates for large private sector businesses and federal employees and contractors. Both of those mandates are under litigation in several courts.
“This is a huge victory for healthcare workers in South Dakota, and especially for our rural hospitals and health care professionals who provide such crucial care to so many of our residents,” South Dakota attorney general Jason Ravnsborg said. “This ruling is a big win against this unprecedented federal overreach.”
Gov. Kristi Noem celebrated the ruling as well, but said South Dakota and other states will need to remain vigilant in defense of individual liberties regarding vaccination requirements amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Republican states have won several victories in defense of our people's freedoms against the Biden Administration's unconstitutional vax mandates," said Noem, who's publicly criticized federal edicts regarding personal medical decisions, but has stopped short of blocking private employers from requiring workers get vaccinated. "The legal fight isn't over, but the results so far are very promising."
This article originally appeared on Sioux Falls Argus Leader: COVID vaccine mandate for South Dakota health care workers blocked