Florida won’t be enforcing the Biden Administration’s mandatory vaccination policy for health care workers upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office said Thursday.
“The state of Florida is not going to serve as the Biden Administration’s biomedical police,” Christina Pushaw, press secretary for Gov. Ron DeSantis, said in an email to the USA TODAY Network-Florida. “Firing unvaccinated healthcare workers, many of whom have infection-conferred immunity, is unethical and unscientific on its face.”
She said it also harms patients “because hospitals in California and other states are now requiring vaccinated, COVID-infected healthcare workers to treat patients due to staffing shortages — which were exacerbated by vaccine mandates. How does that keep anyone safe?”
Related coverage by USA TODAY: Supreme Court blocks COVID-19 vaccine-or-testing mandate for workplaces but lets medical rule stand
The rule was issued by the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services in November but was prevented from implementing it because of several court challenges. Thursday's Supreme Court ruling clears the way for its implementation on Jan. 27.
"CMS's requirements for healthcare workers to be vaccinated will save the lives of patients, as well as the lives of doctors, nurses, and others who work in healthcare settings," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said. "It will cover 17 million healthcare workers at 76,000 medical facilities. The Supreme Court upheld it, and we will enforce that."
During a news conference in Panama City Thursday morning several hours before the Supreme Court ruling came out, DeSantis reiterated his opposition to what he's called "forced" vaccinations.
"In Florida, what we said was, nobody should be denied earning a living based on these jabs,” DeSantis said. “That's your choice. It's a private choice. It is not something the government should be forcing.”
The governor's office applauded the Supreme Court's separate ruling striking down the Biden Administration rule that large private companies with more than 100 workers require they be vaccinated against COVID-19.
“We are excited that the Supreme Court rightly recognized the Biden admin’s overreach in trying to mandate vaccines through OSHA," Taryn Fenske, the governor's communications director, said in an email. "We are disappointed about the CMS ruling and what it could mean for the livelihoods of doctors, nurses, and health professionals in our state.
"As Florida’s prohibition on vaccine mandates remains in effect for all industries, we will be evaluating next steps for enforcement in the coming days.”
CMS rule applies only to hospitals, other health care facilities
The CMS rule applies only to hospitals and other healthcare facilities that receive Medicaid and Medicare funding, requires that all staff be vaccinated, have a qualifying exemption approved or pending, or be granted a temporary delay as recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Hospitals that don’t meet the above requirements will receive a notice of noncompliance.
“A facility that is above 80% and has a plan to achieve a 100% compliance rate within the following 60 days will not be subject to further enforcement action,” the rule says.
The Florida Health Care Association, the state’s largest nursing-home industry group, expressed concerns about the effect of the vaccination requirement on staffing.
“We have always encouraged our members to continue working toward vaccinating as many residents and staff as possible,” Kristen Knapp, a spokeswoman for the Florida Health Care Association, said in an email. “However, long term care is experiencing a historic labor crisis.
"We are extremely concerned that the court’s decision to allow the CMS mandate to go forward will cause nursing homes to lose even more staff at a time when we are grappling with significant staffing shortages that are impacting access to care,” she added.
CMS said facilities must allow exemptions for a disability or a sincerely held religious belief, observance or practice, and for medical reasons.
“Providers and suppliers should establish exceptions as a part of its policies and procedures and in alignment with Federal law,” CMS said in an external guidance memo. “CMS believes that exemptions could be appropriate in certain limited circumstances, but no exemption should be provided to any staff for whom it is not legally required or who requests an exemption solely to evade vaccination.”
All Florida employers must follow Florida law, Pushaw said. And Florida law also requires employers who make workers get the COVID vaccine provide exemptions outlined by the Florida Department of Health rule.
“There are no industry-specific loopholes,” she said.
Florida law also protects all workers, including health care workers, from being forced to get COVID shots “on penalty of termination,” Pushaw said.
“The exemptions in Florida are standardized in accordance with state law, and the forms are available on the Florida Department of Health website,” she added.
“So we would encourage any healthcare worker at a covered facility who cannot get vaccinated to fill out the FDOH exemption form that applies to their situation (e.g., sincerely held belief, medical exemptions, etc.) and provide that form to their employer.”
Jeffrey Schweers is a capital bureau reporter for USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida. Contact Schweers at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @jeffschweers.
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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Florida won't enforce health care vaccine mandate upheld by Supreme Court