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Vern Buchanan: Time to End COVID Vaccine Mandate for Health Care Workers

Last week, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., teamed up with U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-SC, to send a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Sec. Xavier Becerra and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure “to urge them to end the COVID-19 vaccine mandate on America’s health care workers when the public health emergency ends on May 11, 2023.”

Buchanan and Duncan weighed in on why they had sent the letter.

“The pandemic is over, and has been for some time,” said Buchanan. “Continuing to subject health care workers to unnecessary, pandemic-era big government overreach provides no benefit and will inevitably lead to adverse health outcomes for patients. The public health emergency expires in May, and with its expiration, President Biden should rescind this heavy-handed mandate and stop contributing to our nation’s already concerning health care worker shortage.”

“We are continuing the fight to end the draconian COVID shot mandate imposed on our nation’s healthcare workers. The Freedom for Health Care Workers Act has passed the House with bipartisan support, Joe Biden has ended the COVID national emergency, and the public health emergency expires next month. The next step should be to recognize the medical freedom of health care workers and end the authoritarian COVID shot mandate imposed on them by CMS,” said Duncan. “The health care sector continues to face workforce shortages, and our healthcare workers deserve better than being forced out of their jobs for choosing not to receive the COVID shot.”

“The Supreme Court overturned the OSHA vaccine mandate for private employers, and similarly, the vaccine mandate on federal contractors is blocked by the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Fifth and Sixth Circuits. On April 10, 2023, President Biden signed H.J.Res. 7, which ends the COVID-19 national emergency, and the end of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) is still scheduled for May 11, 2023. The CMS vaccine mandate for health care workers will remain in place under the current rule and is not set to expire until November 2024,” Buchanan’s office noted.

More than 50 Republicans in the U.S. House signed the letter including Florida Republican U.S. Reps. Gus Bilirakis, Kat Cammack, Byron Donalds, Neal Dunn, Scott Franklin, Anna Paulina Luna, John Rutherford and Dan Webster.

The letter is below:

Dear Secretary Becerra and Administrator Brooks-LaSure,

We write to request that the COVID-19 vaccination requirements put in place by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) for healthcare workers be repealed in conjunction with the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency scheduled by your Administration for May 11, 2023.

On January 13, 2022, the Supreme Court blocked the COVID-19 vaccine mandate put in place by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The COVID-19 vaccine mandate on federal contractors continues to be under scrutiny, most recently being blocked by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in Louisiana and by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Ohio. These rulings reinforce that the government does not have the authority to dictate an individual’s COVID-19 vaccination status, and this should extend to America’s healthcare workers.

Moreover, the healthcare sector continues to face tremendous workforce challenges. Specifically, long-term care facilities have lost 307,000 jobs over the course of the pandemic and nursing home staff are not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels until 2027. At a time when we are working as a nation to heal from the COVID-19 pandemic, the COVID-19 vaccine mandate on our healthcare workers continues to exacerbate health care staffing shortages and jeopardize patient access to quality care, especially in rural and underserved parts of the country.

The Department of Health and Human Services announced the federal Public Health Emergency (PHE) for COVID-19, as declared under section 319 of the Public Health Services (PHS) Act, is set to expire on May 11, 2023. However, the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for healthcare workers is not affected by the PHE and will remain in place under the current rule put forth by CMS, “Medicare and Medicaid Programs; Omnibus COVID-19 Health Care Staff Vaccination.” This CMS rule is not set to expire until November 2024.

At the beginning of this year, H.R. 497, the Freedom for Healthcare Workers Act, was introduced. This legislation would repeal this CMS rule and nullify the COVID-19 vaccine mandate on our healthcare workers and passed the House with bipartisan support. We believe no one should be forced to choose between getting the COVID-19 shot or losing their livelihood – especially those that have been on the frontline since the beginning of the pandemic.

On April 10, 2023, President Biden signed into law H.J.Res. 7, which ends the COVID-19 national emergency. This resolution passed the House and the Senate with strong bipartisan support. We believe that ending these emergency powers is only the first step for returning to normalcy post-pandemic. We are hopeful that ending the national emergency is followed by the swift termination of draconian policies on our healthcare system, specifically the end of the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

We strongly urge you to repeal this authoritarian rule that forces healthcare workers to get the COVID-19 vaccine in order to keep their job. We believe this was misguided, un-American policy from the beginning.

Author

  • Kevin Derby

    Originally from Jacksonville, Kevin Derby is a contributing writer for Florida Daily and covers politics across Florida.

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