Healthcare

Federal judge upholds hospital system's COVID-19 vaccine mandate

A Kentucky federal judge on Friday upheld a hospital system's COVID-19 vaccine mandate, ruling that the hospital had the authority to issue such a requirement. 

In a 20-page ruling, U.S. District Judge David Bunning turned down a request from employees of St. Elizabeth Healthcare to temporarily bar the mandate. 

Bunning's ruling was based on the 1905 Supreme Court decision Jacobson v. Massachusetts, which allowed the city of Cambridge to mandate vaccinations during the smallpox pandemic.

"Jacobson and its holding have not been overturned by the Supreme Court, and this Court will thus abide by it and its principles," Bunning wrote. "Actual liberty for all of us cannot exist where individual liberties override potential injury done to others." 

Mark Guilfoyle, an attorney for St. Elizabeth Healthcare, told the Cincinnati Enquirer that the ruling was "great news for St. Elizabeth patients, for St. Elizabeth associates and for our whole community."

Employees of St. Elizabeth Healthcare - which operates in the northern Kentucky, southeast Indiana and Greater Cincinnati areas - sued earlier this month, arguing that the mandate infringed on their constitutional rights.

The health care system required employees to either be vaccinated or submit a request for medical or religious exemption by Oct. 1. Failure to comply with the mandate could result in termination.

In his ruling, Bunning said that plaintiffs made it clear that they were suspicious of the COVID-19 vaccines. However, he said that the case was about balancing "private equities and public equities."

"Plaintiffs have made clear that they are suspicious about the efficacy and safety of the COVID-19 vaccines," Bunning wrote. "They have also presented the opinions of medical professionals who share the same suspicions. But unfortunately, suspicions cannot override the law, which recognizes Defendants' right to set conditions of employment."

The ruling comes as vaccine mandates become the latest flashpoint in the pandemic while the U.S. grapples with an increase in infections fueled by the rapidly spreading delta variant. President Biden earlier this month ordered businesses with at least 100 employees to mandate vaccines or weekly testing.

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