Federal judge orders nationwide pause on CMS' COVID-19 vaccine mandate for healthcare workers

A Louisiana federal court has granted 14 states’ bid for a preliminary injunction that not only halts a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) rule requiring COVID-19 vaccination for healthcare workers in their own states but across the entire nation.

In the memorandum ruling issued Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Terry A. Doughty wrote that the plaintiff states had clearly proven CMS’ mandate would lead to irreparable injury against each state.

The judge wrote that the plaintiffs’ arguments that CMS exceeded its authority with the rule and did not have good cause to forego the required notice and comment period will likely find success in the case’s eventual ruling. The states are similarly likely to find success arguing that the mandate was both contrary to law and arbitrary and capricious, the judge wrote, but will likely be hit and miss around other alleged constitutional violations.

Doughty said he decided to extend the preliminary injunction beyond the 14 states “due to the need for uniformity” with the nationwide mandate. Unvaccinated healthcare workers in other states “also need protection” of their civil liberties during the ongoing state of emergency, he wrote.

“This matter will ultimately be decided by a higher court than this one,” Doughty wrote in the decision. “However, it is important to preserve the status quo in this case. The liberty interests of the unvaccinated requires nothing less.”

CMS announced in early November that it would be requiring applicable healthcare facilities to have a policy in place ensuring that eligible staff receive their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine series by Dec. 5 and to have completed their series by Jan. 4, 2022. Failure to comply with the requirement would place an organization’s Medicare funding in jeopardy.

RELATED: Healthcare associations, experts urge employers to swiftly adopt OSHA's 'commonsense' vaccination requirements

The preliminary injunction will remain in place pending the court's final decision or another order from an appellate court or the Supreme Court.

Tuesday’s decision was applauded by Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, who led 12 states in filing the challenge on Nov. 15 (two additional states, Kentucky and Ohio, joined the case in the following weeks).

“While our fight is far from over, I am pleased the Court granted preliminary relief against the president’s unconstitutional and immoral attack on not only our healthcare workers but also the access to healthcare services for our poor and elderly,” Landry said in a Tuesday statement. “I will see this case through to the end—fighting every step of the way to prevent the federal government from imposing medical tyranny on our citizens and turning last year's healthcare heroes into this year's unemployed.”

Doughty’s decision follows that of Eastern District of Missouri District Judge Matthew T. Schelp, who on Monday had granted a preliminary injunction to 10 rural states that sought to block the mandate through the courts.

Schelp’s order, which affect those 10 states alone, similarly suggested that plaintiffs would likely find success in their arguments that the CMS mandate was unlawful and arbitrary and capricious.

Both district judges are recent appointees of President Joe Biden’s predecessor, President Donald Trump.

RELATED: How many employees have hospitals lost to vaccine mandates? Here are the numbers so far

Their decisions add to the momentum Republican leaders opposing vaccine requirements have picked up in recent weeks.

On Tuesday, a Kentucky District Court granted a preliminary injunction in Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee against the Biden administration’s requirement for vaccination among government contractors and those that do business with them.

In November, a U.S. appellate court ordered OSHA to temporarily halt its emergency temporary standard that would require businesses with 100 or more employees to require COVID-19 vaccination or testing—a decision cited by Doughty in Tuesday’s ruling as “almost identical” to his own.

OSHA published a statement shortly after saying it “remains confident in its authority to protect workers in emergencies” but has suspended implementation and enforcement of the requirement “pending future developments in the litigation.”

Despite the pushback, healthcare associations, individual experts and the Biden administration have all stood firm on the importance of organizations’ vaccination mandates, with the novel omicron variant only adding to the president’s urgency to get shots in arms.