Policy Issue

Policy Watch: Supreme Court Acts on Vaccine Mandates

January 24, 2022

The Supreme Court in early January blocked the implementation of a federal policy requiring large employers to enact vaccine-or-test mandates. In November 2021 the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a mandate requiring employers with 100 or more employees to have their employees be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or commit to mask-wearing and weekly testing, believing that COVID-19 is a risk in the workplace. The mandate was expected to cover two-thirds of private employers and over 80 million Americans. However, the Supreme Court found that while OSHA has the power to regulate work hazards, the agency overstepped by trying to regulate "broad public health measures," and the mandate is on hold while lower courts grapple with its legality. Meanwhile President Biden encouraged states and individual employers to take action.

A second vaccine-related case was heard by the Supreme Court and had a different outcome. In November 2021 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) ruled that health care workers in facilities receiving Medicare and Medicaid dollars must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or demonstrate a medical or religious exemption. Again the court considered the role of the federal agency, but found narrowly that HHS acted within its responsibility "to ensure that the healthcare providers… protect their patients' health and safety" by employing the mandate.

Both opinions come in a time when public health is politicized in American culture, and when the political atmosphere is particularly divisive.

To read more about the Supreme Court's decision, click here.

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