Biden asks Supreme Court to back health worker vaccine mandate after legal challenges

The Biden administration is asking the Supreme Court to preserve its vaccination mandate for healthcare workers after legal challenges in several states.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) released a legal filing late Thursday that seeks to overturn a ruling from a federal court late last month that blocked the mandate in 10 states.

A lower court struck down the mandate for 10 states, and a divided panel in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the government’s motion to hold off enforcing the ruling until an appeal can be heard.

This week, a federal appeals court reinstated in 26 states the administration's vaccination mandate for health workers at hospitals that receive federal funding. As it stands, the vaccine requirement for Medicare and Medicaid providers is blocked by courts in about half of U.S. states but not in the other half, creating the potential for patchwork enforcement across the country.

But the DOJ said the mandate is vital to protect patients from COVID-19.

“It is difficult to imagine a more paradigmatic health and safety condition than a requirement that workers at hospitals, nursing homes and other medical facilities take the step that most effectively prevents transmission of a deadly virus to vulnerable patients,” the filing said.

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The administration released the mandate that eligible healthcare workers get their first shot by Dec. 5 and be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4.

Any facilities that don’t fully comply with the mandate could risk losing funding from Medicare and Medicaid.

DOJ argued that Congress charged Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) with ensuring Medicare and Medicaid facilities protect the health and safety of their patients and there are detailed conditions for participation.

The filing said regulations have long included a requirement that facilities maintain an infection prevention and control program to prevent transmission of illnesses and infections.

HHS found unvaccinated staff at facilities can pose “a serious threat” to patient safety. It added that absenteeism sparked by the virus has created “staffing shortages that have further disrupted patient access to care,” the filing said.

HHS also noted that any departures sparked by opposition to the mandate could be offset by fewer staff illnesses and quarantines.