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The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a federal government COVID-19 vaccine mandate for most health care workers is allowed to take effect, coming down against Missouri and other states who sought to keep the rule blocked.
The high court's decision overturns rulings by two federal appeals courts in Missouri and Louisiana that blocked the mandate from going into effect in multiple states.
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration shortly after the rule was published in November by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid. Health care facilities that receive Medicare and Medicaid funding from the federal government must enforce the rule, exempting workers with medical or religious reasons.
Vaccine mandates: U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments on health care workers case
The bench agreed with the federal government that it was within the Secretary of Health & Human Services' power to issue the mandate.
"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," the court's opinion says.
Justices also wrote that the requirements fall in line with what is expected of health care facilities that receive federal funding.
"Healthcare facilities that wish to participate in Medicare and Medicaid have always been obligated to satisfy a host of conditions that address the safe and effective provision of healthcare, not simply sound accounting," the opinion says.
Schmitt released a statement after the ruling was announced, indicating he plans to continue challenging the Biden administration on COVID-19 vaccine requirements.
"While we’re disappointed in the Supreme Court’s ruling on our lawsuit against the health care worker vaccine mandate, that fight is far from over, and the case is still ongoing," Schmitt said in a statement. "We’re committed to ensuring that rural hospitals and nursing homes continue to stay open and provide critical care to Missourians, and we will not give up this fight.”
The court heard arguments in the case last week, in which attorneys for the Biden administration said the rule was needed to protect the health and safety of patients. Republican-led states argued the mandate would hurt rural health care facilities' workforces and called it an overreach of federal power.
Some of the largest health care employers in Missouri imposed their own vaccine mandates prior to the federal requirements being released, including Mercy, CoxHealth and MU Health Care.
"Less than two percent" of Mercy's more than 40,000-person workforce did not get vaccinated, and roughly 50 of Cox's 12,500 workers resigned due to its mandate.
Nursing homes in the state, however, have lagged; Missouri ranks last among all U.S. states in percent of nursing home staff who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. As of Thursday, that statistic stands at 66.40 percent, according to data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
The Supreme Court ruled against the Biden administration on a different COVID-19 vaccine mandate applying to large employers in a separate decision Thursday. Schmitt celebrated that ruling, calling it "a massive win for millions of workers and businesses across the country." Schmitt also filed suit against that mandate, issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: US Supreme Court ruling allows vaccine mandate for health care workers