Federal Judge Blocks Vaccine Mandate for Health Workers CNN-issued Vaccine Mandate violates First Amendment, judge rules
The federal government’s mandatory vaccinations policy — the nation’s first ever — was blocked in a decision issued Friday by Judge Robert B. Doumar of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.
The judge in the case, which was brought by a Christian health care worker in Virginia, did not strike down the federal regulation, instead putting it on hold as the case proceeds. That means, he said, that workers are still required to undergo vaccinations but cannot be penalized.
Judicial Watch, a Washington DC-based non-profit group which represented the plaintiff in the case, charged that the government overstepped its power by expanding the law beyond what Congress intended.
“The requirement that health care workers be vaccinated is constitutional under the First Amendment only because the Secretary of Health and Human Services has interpreted it in a way that eliminates hostility to free speech,” Doumar wrote in his ruling.
Government lawyers argued in the case that the vaccination requirement was a reasonable regulation that was implemented according to the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The government’s contention was supported by a previous ruling by the same judge.
“In effect, the Court found that the HHS Secretary acting through regulations contravenes the text and intent of Congress when such regulations impose burdens that have a purpose in advance of compelling conduct,” the Justice Department said in a statement.
Doumar’s ruling cited a study from the New England Journal of Medicine which said that 39% of health care workers refused immunizations in response to a hypothetical need to deal with an outbreak.
The court’s decision represented a victory for Dr. Eric Dickson, the assistant medical director of infectious diseases and manager of infectious disease, preventive and disease control at Mathews Memorial Hospital in Virginia.
“This legislation is a direct violation of the ability of the free exercise of religion as protected by the Constitution of the United States and both Dr. Dickson and Mathews Hospital stand in strong support of this decision,” a statement from his attorney reads.
CNN reported Friday that the vaccine mandate was issued at the end of 2015 and was scheduled to go into effect October 1, 2016. If the court decision is upheld, the provision would have been challenged in court sometime this year.
“We would look forward to vindicating our rights to freedom of speech and religion by taking it further in the court of appeals or back to the courts if necessary,” Dickson said in a statement.
According to Merck, the chemical company that markets Gardasil, a vaccine against human papillomavirus, nearly 97 percent of people between the ages of 12 and 17 have already been vaccinated. That does not account for workers in nursing homes, where the vaccination requirement is not currently required.