The Biden administration, in conjunction with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, recently issued a COVID-19 vaccination mandate for staff of healthcare facilities who participate in Medicare and Medicaid programs. As a result, the employees of these facilities must be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4, 2022.
"The [new] rule applies to more than 17 million workers at approximately 76,000 health care facilities, including hospitals and long-term care facilities," said the White House in its announcement.
Experts say these mandates are effective in decreasing the spread of COVID-19.
The CMS requires employers to consider religious and medical exemptions but states that those who receive an exemption must be tested weekly for COVID-19. However, those who work remotely full time are not required to obtain the vaccine. Physicians who have staffing privileges at hospitals would also be subject to the requirement.
The American Hospital Association issued a statement shortly after the White House issued the new mandate:
"Today's vaccine mandate regulations set clear expectations and streamline and simplify compliance requirements for health care providers," it said. "Importantly, they clarify that hospitals will need to comply with only the C.M.S. rule, eliminating unnecessary complexity in implementing vaccine mandates."
"COVID-19 vaccines, together with naturally acquired immunity, have been crucial to containing the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S. and around the world," said Kofi Ampaabeng, senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center. "Unfortunately, the administration seems to be solely focused on vaccinations to curb the spread of the virus even though CMS admits that the information about vaccines, including the need for boosters, is changing rapidly. Healthcare workers have sacrificed everything for the past 20 months to take care of Americans, and forcing them to choose between their livelihood and being vaccinated is unnecessary."
A survey conducted by Adaptive Medical Partners found that one-third of respondents disagreed with the vaccine mandates, while 77% stated that the order would not affect their career plans. Yet, many are still choosing to find jobs elsewhere.
For example, a healthcare facility in New York has lost 1,400 employees due to resignations or termination for failure to comply with vaccine orders. Kaiser Permanente, a California-based facility, placed 2,200 workers on unpaid leave. They must be vaccinated by Dec. 1 to return to work.
Departures such as these have only worsened shortage issues in healthcare. In October, the Biden administration pledged $100 million, aiming to address these shortages. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said this investment is necessary to support community needs across the U.S.
However, some healthcare professionals suggest a better approach to the issue: advocating for an educational methodology to the public on vaccination instead of issuing mandates.
Dr. Chaminie Wheeler, a physician at St. Luke's in Pennsylvania, has spoken out against the mandates. She has not received the COVID-19 vaccine and said she does not think she should get forced to, even as a healthcare professional.
“I am willing to lose my job," Wheeler said.
Others see the mandates as the only resolution to the pandemic.
The CEO of Pfizer, Albert Bourla, said that people who spread disinformation about the vaccine are criminals and that "they have literally cost millions of lives." Bourla said the only way for life to go back to normal is by ensuring the unvaccinated get vaccinated.
Currently, 10 states have sued the federal government in hopes of blocking the new mandate. The suit filed in Missouri argues the requirement will exacerbate shortages, hurting rural healthcare the most.
The remaining nine states that have sued include Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.
South Carolina's attorney general also plans to sue, saying, "President Biden has once again overstepped his legal authority and overreached his power."
These additional lawsuits contribute to legal battles concerning vaccination mandates at both the federal and state level.
No resolution to lawsuits regarding healthcare employees has been reached thus far.