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Healthcare workers in two dozen states must be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus by March 15 after a Supreme Court ruling last week, a decision that left some already understaffed hospital systems to prepare to possibly lose workers just as the highly contagious variant of Omicron floods them with the sick.
The new guidelines were released Friday by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services after the court upheld President Biden’s vaccination mandate for healthcare workers. This will affect about 10 million people in about 76,000 Medicaid and Medicare participating health care facilities, including hospitals and long-term care facilities.
Experts say the mandates are effective in persuading more people to get vaccinated, which they say is key to helping prevent the spread of the virus. And President Biden has continued to press for more vaccinations and testing, reiterating that schools must remain open and that the days of closures are over.
“We are heading into a time when Covid-19 will not disrupt our daily lives,” Mr Biden said at a press conference on Wednesday. He called a recent Supreme Court decision to block a vaccination or testing mandate for large private employers “a mistake.”
About this data
Sources: National and local health agencies (cases, deaths); US Department of Health and Human Services (hospitalizations).
CDC guidelines on Friday meant that health care workers in 24 states where vaccination mandates were not yet in effect must receive at least one injection of a coronavirus vaccine within 30 days and must be fully vaccinated from March 15, a spokesperson for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said.
The states affected are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming. For those states, the federal vaccine requirement had been blocked by a lower court.
The guidelines do not yet apply in Texas, where a preliminary injunction still prevents such requirements.
The Supreme Court’s decision does not affect timelines already in place for the other 25 states, Washington, D.C. and U.S. territories, where healthcare workers must be fully vaccinated by Feb. 28, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
The demands come as hospitals across the country are pushed to their limits by a surge in cases and staffing shortages. Many healthcare workers are falling ill with the virus and others who resigned under the pressure of the pandemic have not been replaced.
Local and regional hospitals, as well as multi-state hospital chains, have struggled with vaccination resistance among some nurses and other staff. Many of the largest groups, including the Cleveland Clinic and HCA Healthcare, suspended their own vaccination warrants last month pending the Supreme Court’s decision.
While a study by federal researchers found that 30% of hospital workers were not fully vaccinated by mid-September, overall vaccination rates rose in subsequent months as mandates took effect.
Some health care systems, such as HCA Healthcare, have recognized that the mandate could pose a challenge. HCA Healthcare, which employs about 275,000 workers, said in a statement last week that if workers refuse to be vaccinated, it “could compromise our ability to serve our communities and provide patient care in programs. Medicare and Medicaid”.
An HCA spokesperson added that more than 90% of its workers were vaccinated or eligible for an exemption.
Although there are signs that new cases have peaked in some northeastern states, such as New York, they remain dangerously high across the country. And hospitalizations across the country have broken records.
Dr. Josh Sharfstein, associate dean of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, whose work focuses on promoting public health strategies, said the policy could create “potential short-term challenges” with hospitals. which are understaffed.
“It may require some flexibility to get through this period,” he said, “but that doesn’t make the underlying policy less than a good idea.”
Dr. Peter Hotez, a pediatrician and scientist at Baylor College of Medicine who studies vaccines, said the mandate was the best way to keep medical workers healthy.
“Vaccines represent the surest way to keep healthcare personnel, in fact in healthcare personnel,” he wrote in an email.