White House announces end to COVID-19 vaccination requirements for federal employees, healthcare

The White House announced Monday that it will be ending the hard-fought COVID-19 vaccination requirements for federal employees, contractors and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid-certified facilities.

The requirement will officially end for federal employees, contractors and international air travelers alongside the Public Health Emergency on May 11, according to a release from the administration.

The wind-down for CMS-certified healthcare facilities and some other groups is being handled by the Department of Health and Human Services and will be shared “in the coming days,” according to the release.

“While vaccination remains one of the most important tools in advancing the health and safety of employees and promoting the efficiency of workplaces, we are now in a different phase of our response when these measures are no longer necessary,” the Biden administration wrote in the announcement.

The CMS facility vaccination requirement had been announced in September 2021 and was implemented in early 2022. Though applauded by most healthcare industry groups, the sweeping requirement was opposed by some labor groups and rural states, with the latter arguing the additional burden would harm healthcare facilities already short on staff.

The vaccination requirement for healthcare was narrowly upheld by the Supreme Court in January 2022. The top court chose not to hear an appeal petitioned by rural states during the following months.

Implementing the requirement forced many hospitals and health systems to shed a small portion of their workforce. For example, Houston Methodist, which was the first to announce a vaccine mandate for its staff, reported 153 resignations and terminations among its roughly 26,000-person workforce.

The White House framed its requirements for healthcare facilities and others as a key contributor to national vaccination rates.

Nearly 270 million Americans have received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, the administration said, with deaths and hospitalizations attributed to the disease down 95% and 91%, respectively, since January 2021. Within the federal government alone, 98% of employees had either received at least one dose of a vaccine or had an exception or extension request in place by January 2022, according to the announcement.

“Our COVID-19 vaccine requirements bolstered vaccination across the nation, and our broader vaccination campaign has saved millions of lives,” the administration said.

The announcement comes as the healthcare industry prepares for numerous waivers and flexibilities to shutter with the official end of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency.