22 states ask CMS to withdraw healthcare worker vaccine mandate

A coalition of 22 states has filed a petition seeking to repeal the Biden administration's rule that requires employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 if they work in healthcare facilities that receive Medicare or Medicaid funding.

The coalition — led by Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen — filed the petition Nov. 17. It is signed by Mr. Knudsen, along with attorneys general in Louisiana, Tennessee, Arizona, Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oklahoma, Virginia and Wyoming.

In the petition, filed under the Administrative Procedures Act, the attorneys general request that CMS withdraw its vaccine mandate for healthcare workers and all related guidance, citing the most recent pandemic circumstances.

"Just over a year ago, CMS rushed to impose the [vaccine rule]. And it relied on a purported emergency — the rapid spread of the Delta variant —to sidestep the Administrative Procedure Act's notice-and-comment requirements, even though it was unsure if the vaccines would prevent transmission," the petition states. "But evidence available at that time, and evidence that has emerged since, demonstrates that full vaccination doesn't prevent infection or transmission. Delta is long gone, replaced by the milder, more transmissible Omicron variant, which is even more resistant to vaccines. Breakthrough infections are common. And to make matters worse, studies increasingly show heightened health risks associated with the vaccines. Yet the outdated emergency [rule] remains in force."

The petition also contends that the vaccine rule intensified staffing shortages at healthcare facilities, resulting in reduced risk of patients contracting the virus but also limiting many patients' access to needed care.

In November 2021, CMS announced the vaccination mandate covering healthcare facilities participating in Medicare and Medicaid. The rule, which includes medical and religious exemptions, has been the subject of legal challenges since that time.

Regarding the recent petition by 22 states, a CMS spokesperson told Becker's the agency "is aware of the states' petition for rulemaking and will conduct a review that is consistent with its legal obligations. Since many of the states that filed the petition are plaintiffs in ongoing lawsuits seeking to overturn the vaccine rule, CMS will not comment further."

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