Alaska joins lawsuit challenging federal vaccine mandate for health care workers

Published: Nov. 10, 2021 at 2:54 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Alaska has joined nine other states in a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Missouri to block federal COVID-19 vaccine requirements for health care workers.

The lawsuit claims that the vaccine mandate issued by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will exacerbate a national health care worker shortage affecting hospitals that had ben dealing with a recent surge in COVID-19 cases up until late October, attributed to the delta variant.

The lawsuit was filed by Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who is running for U.S. Senate as a Republican. The lawsuit against the CMS rule is the third in as many weeks filed against President Joe Biden’s administration. A lawsuit against a vaccine mandate for federal contractors was filed on Oct. 29, and a separate set of lawsuits was filed on Nov. 5 against a vaccine mandate for large companies.

“The CMS vaccine mandate threatens with job loss millions of healthcare workers who risked their lives in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic to care for strangers and friends in their communities. The Plaintiff States seek to end this dragooning of our States’ healthcare heroes,” reads a portion of the lawsuit.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy issued an administrative order on Nov. 2 pushing back against “federal overreach” of vaccine mandates. Of the 10 states whose attorneys general signed onto the Missouri lawsuit on Wednesday, all are Republican except for Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, who is a Democrat serving a state led by a Republican governor.

“This new rule is an insult to the personal freedoms of the health-care heroes who have been critical to Alaska’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dunleavy. “This is unconstitutional and yet another example of the Biden Administration’s overreach on issues that should be left to the states.”

While the lawsuit filed claims that the mandate is federal overreach, Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association CEO and President Jared Kosin argued the opposite. Kosin said that the lawsuit joined by Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor was disappointing.

“We’re all trying to figure out how to handle it and how to handle it in a way where we can maintain our health care infrastructure and our way of life going forward,” Kosin said. “We have been through hell over the last couple months and now it feels like we’re starting to pull out of that, and one thing we’ve learned in this entire pandemic is the most effective defense against it and against going into those situations where — I will stress again, have been hell — is the vaccine. That is the most effective weapon we can use. In many respects it’s consistent with how we handle other vaccine protocols for healthcare workers.”

The state’s largest hospital, Providence Alaska Medical Center, reported over 99% compliance with their own mandate for workers to be vaccinated in October.

“The safety of our patients and our caregivers is our highest priority,” said Providence spokesperson Mikal Canfield via email on Wednesday. “We are grateful that the vast majority of our caregivers have received their vaccinations — an essential step toward keeping our caregivers, patients and communities safe.”

The lawsuit filed Wednesday claims that millions of health care workers would potentially lose their jobs over the CMS vaccine mandate.

“The 10th Amendment prohibits federal agencies from taking away powers that are reserved to the states, which know best how to enact the kinds of public health measures to best fit the needs of its citizens,” Taylor said in a press release. “This rule would punish our rural hospitals and countless health care workers across Alaska by withholding Medicare and Medicaid funding if they don’t comply with a mandate. The courts have already stopped one overreaching federal vaccine mandate in the 5th U.S. Circuit of Appeals, and we hope this one will be blocked as well.”

Kosin noted that the original version of the CMS mandate only included long-term care facility staff and that many rural hospitals share staff with those facilities.

“The rule makes sense to us,” he said. “It’s reasonable actually, once you read it and remember other vaccines are required to work in healthcare facilities. Even if you go to something as simple and something that we’re used to like the flu vaccine, healthcare workers are required to get the flu vaccine. Looking at the totality of the circumstances and the way this rule was designed, it seems like a reasonable positive step forward to hopefully getting past this pandemic.”

Each of the three federal vaccine mandates is set to take effect on Jan. 4. A federal appeals court has temporarily blocked the vaccine mandate for large companies.

Alaska joined Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming in filing the lawsuit in Missouri on Wednesday.

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