Federal vaccine mandate for health care workers on hold

IN Focus: Indiana Politics

INDIANAPOLIS – The federal vaccine mandate for many health care workers is now on hold.

Days before the requirement was set to begin, a federal judge in Louisiana issued a preliminary injunction Tuesday as the mandate’s future is decided by the courts.

Under the mandate, health care workers were supposed to have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by December 6 and their second dose by January 4.

COVID-19 vaccination rates have varied across health care facilities in Indiana. At Hooverwood Living in Indianapolis, 89% of staff members are fully vaccinated, according to CEO Evan Lubline.

“I think one of the best things is when other staff members talk to the other staff members about it,” Lubline said.

Still, many of Indiana’s health care workers remain unvaccinated.

As of November 7, the most recent state data available, 32.8% of the state’s long-term care facility workers haven’t received their first dose.

If the mandate is eventually upheld and takes effect, facilities that do not enforce it could be at risk of losing Medicare and Medicaid funding.

“To lose one staff member is challenging,” Lubline said. “We know that right now we would lose I think about 20 or so.”

Legal experts say it’s unclear how long it will take for a final decision on the mandate to be reached.

“Not only will they be decided in the district courts, but eventually it will go to the courts of appeal and perhaps to the Supreme Court,” explained Kenneth Dau-Schmidt, professor of labor and employment law at Indiana University. “So it will be a while before this is finally decided.”

Dau-Schmidt urges health care workers to check with their employers to see if they have chosen to enforce vaccine mandates of their own.

“Regardless of whether this rule is enforceable, the employer can require them to be vaccinated as a condition of employment, and I would be surprised if some employers didn’t want to go forward with that,” he said.

Indiana is one of the states that has sued to block the mandate. In a statement, Attorney General Todd Rokita (R-Indiana) called the injunction “a tremendous win for liberty.”

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