Judge blocks COVID-19 vaccine mandate for US government employees

By on 24/01/2022 | Updated on 31/01/2022

A federal court has issued an injunction against the Biden administration’s coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal workers, pausing a programme that required staff to be fully vaccinated or face discipline.  

The Biden administration has filed an appeal, according to Government Executive.

The mandate, which was issued in September, required around two million federal workers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by 22 November unless they had been granted exemption on medical or religious grounds. Prior to the injunction, feds who failed to comply were subject to an enforcement process that could end in dismissal, though it is understood that no-one has yet been fired for refusing to be vaccinated.

Judge Jeffrey Brown, who was appointed by President Trump to the U.S. Court for the Southern District of Texas, said the case – brought by Feds For Medical Freedom – was not about whether people should be vaccinated.

“It is instead about whether the president can, with the stroke of a pen and without the input of Congress, require millions of federal employees to undergo a medical procedure as a condition of their employment,” Brown wrote. “That, under the current state of the law as just recently expressed by the Supreme Court, is a bridge too far.” 

[See also: US feds’ COVID-19 vaccination rate on the rise but discipline for non-compliance ramps up]

Supreme Court blocks ‘vaccine-or-testing rule’

Judge Brown explained that he based his ruling on the Supreme Court’s 13 January decision to block an Occupational and Health Administration emergency order requiring companies with more than 100 employees to ensure their staff are either vaccinated against the disease or tested regularly.  

“Applying that same logic to the president’s authority… means he cannot require civilian federal employees to submit to the vaccine as a condition of employment,” Judge Brown wrote.

While he conceded that the government “has an undeniable interest in protecting the public against COVID-19,” he said it “has not shown that an injunction in this case will have any serious detrimental effect on its fight to stop” the coronavirus because most federal employees are already vaccinated. He said “any harm to the public interest by allowing federal employees to remain unvaccinated must be balanced against the harm sure to come by terminating unvaccinated workers who provide vital services to the nation”.

Brown added that “while vaccines are undoubtedly the best way to avoid serious illness from COVID-19, there is no reason to believe that the public interest cannot be served via less restrictive measures than the mandate, such as masking, social distancing, or part- or full-time remote work”.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Friday that more than 93% of federal employees have received at least one jab and that 98% have been vaccinated or are seeking an exemption.

Psaki said the administration is confident in its legal authority. The government noted numerous other courts that had rejected similar challenges.  

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About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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