CMS responds to states seeking vaccination mandate waivers

CMS emphasized its commitment to working with West Virginia and Virginia after governors of those states called for a limited waiver on the agency's COVID-19 vaccination mandate for healthcare workers at rural or state-run healthcare facilities.

A Feb. 15 letter to Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin and West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, which was shared with Becker's, said CMS wants to ensure people across the U.S., including in rural areas, have access to the care they need, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It also highlighted the importance of ensuring healthcare workers are vaccinated.

"We have seen that healthcare systems that implement vaccine requirements are not experiencing dramatic staff losses. Vaccinated staff are instead more available to work since they are less likely to get sick," CMS said. "Increasing the uptake of COVID-19 vaccines, including the booster shot, is the most important tool against staffing shortages."

With this in mind, CMS vowed to continue working with states and facilities on the mandate and asked Virginia and West Virginia to provide the agency with a list of state-run facilities about which they are concerned.

"CMS will reach out directly to those facilities to better understand their individual circumstances so we can help them come into compliance," the letter said.

The response from CMS comes after the governors sent a joint letter to the agency Jan. 31 saying they are concerned about the long-term effects on healthcare quality, particularly for residents in rural areas, if thousands of healthcare professionals are no longer allowed to work because of the federal vaccination mandate.

They requested that CMS provide a limited waiver to the mandate for rural and state-run facilities that are "in a state of crisis."

The CMS rule, which the Supreme Court upheld Jan. 13, requires healthcare facilities to establish a policy ensuring eligible workers are fully vaccinated, with exemptions allowed based on religious beliefs or recognized medical conditions. Healthcare workers in Virginia must be fully vaccinated by Feb. 28, while workers in West Virginia, which is covered by the Supreme Court decision, were expected to have their first dose Feb. 14.  

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