A federal judge blocked the federal government on Monday from mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for health care workers in Kansas 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 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.'"
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt announced the state was joining the suit alongside Missouri, Nebraska, Arkansas, Kansas, Iowa, Wyoming, Alaska, South Dakota, North Dakota and New Hampshire. Schelp's order will block health care providers in those states from requiring workers to receive COVID-19 vaccines.
Schmidt praised the injunction in a statement.
“I continue to encourage Kansans to be vaccinated, but that personal health care decision should be made by each individual and not mandated by any federal government agency,” Schmidt said. “This overreaching, one-size-fits-all mandate would further disrupt and impede the efforts of health care facilities and their employees all across Kansas to provide the care Kansans expect and deserve.”
Many of the state's healthc are systems, including Stormont Vail, Ascension Via Christi, the University of Kansas Health System, have required vaccines of their workers independently of the federal mandate. Less than 1% of staff at Stormont Vail have voluntarily left their jobs because of a COVID-19 vaccine mandate and zero have been fired after the Oct. 31 deadline passed.
It comes after Gov. Laura Kelly signed a measure last week making it easier for workers to get religious and moral exemptions from getting the COVID-19 vaccine, as well as making those who lose their jobs due to vaccine requirement are eligible for unemployment.
Andrew Bahl is a senior statehouse reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 443-979-6100.
This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: CMS vaccine mandate for Kansas health care workers blocked by judge