Idaho and other health care workers nationwide are now required by federal law to either be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or have been granted an exemption from their employer, as of March 15. However, the COVID-19 vaccine mandate saga continues as the U.S. Senate recently passed a resolution of disapproval that would nullify the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) vaccine mandate, co-sponsored by Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and 35 others.
While the country waits for the decision of the U.S. House of Representatives and President Joe Biden on the resolution, businesses continue to feel the effects of COVID-19 and are considering their own vaccination policies.
Mark Snider, public relations and digital strategy coordinator at Saint Alphonsus Health System, reported that more than 6,000 workers and colleagues decided whether to comply with the company’s COVID-19 vaccination policy.
“We are part of Trinity Health, a national health care ministry. Trinity required all employees be vaccinated against COVID-19, just like it requires all colleagues get annual flu shots,” Snider stated when asked about Saint Alphonsus workers’ compliance. “At Saint Alphonsus, we held multiple online employee ‘town halls,’ where colleagues were able to get the latest information about COVID-19 and vaccines…We offered the opportunity for colleagues to seek religious or medical exemptions.”
Snider emphasized that opportunities for exemptions were considered carefully. Some colleagues chose not to comply with the vaccination mandate and left Saint Alphonsus.
In January, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the preliminary injunction stopping the CMS mandate but upheld the two injunctions stopping the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) vaccination mandates.
“Although COVID-19 is a risk that occurs in many workplaces, it is not an occupational hazard in most,” according to a statement made by the Supreme Court. While the spread of COVID-19 is a danger to the public, it is a…day-to-day danger, like crime or pollution.
“Permitting OSHA to regulate the hazards of daily life — simply because most Americans have jobs and face those same risks while on the clock — would significantly expand OSHA’s regulatory authority without clear congressional authorization,” according to a statement made by the Supreme Court.
Today, businesses outside the health care industry and local governments are considering enforcing their own COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Gov. Brad Little, R-Idaho, recently vetoed legislation that would make it illegal for most businesses to require vaccination against COVID-19.
The idea of a vaccination mandate is not a new one. Businesses and institutions have other vaccination mandates by state governments. Idaho has its own immunization law that requires a child’s vaccination against such diseases like Tetanus prior to attending school.
Hannah Andazola, an attorney at Smith + Malek PLLC, a law firm with offices in Idaho and Washington, brought up a case decided in 1905 called Jacobson v. Commonwealth of Massachusetts, where the U.S. Supreme Court agreed that Massachusetts could regulate a smallpox vaccination mandate. The state in particular could levy a fine for those who chose not to receive a vaccination in the interest of managing public health in emergencies.
Andazola added: “While the U.S. Supreme Court did not rely on Jacobson in determining whether the CMS mandate should be upheld, it noted that CMS has broad powers to condition facilities’ participation in the Medicare and Medicaid programs on ‘requirements as (CMS) finds necessary in the interest of the health and safety of individuals who are furnished services in the institution.’”
The court determined that CMS’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate is necessary to protect the health and safety of patients because, as stated by the Supreme Court, “COVID-19 is a highly contagious, dangerous — and especially for Medicare and Medicaid patients — deadly disease.”r