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Judge blocks federal employee COVID vaccine mandate

Posted On: Jan. 21, 2022 12:41 PM CST

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(Reuters) — A judge in Texas ruled Friday that President Joe Biden could not require federal employees to be vaccinated against the coronavirus and blocked the U.S. government from disciplining employees who failed to comply.

Mr. Biden issued an order requiring about 3.5 million workers to get vaccinated by Nov. 22 barring a religious or medical accommodation — or else face discipline or firing.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Brown said the question was whether Biden could “require millions of federal employees to undergo a medical procedure as a condition of their employment. That, under the current state of the law as just recently expressed by the Supreme Court, is a bridge too far.”

Judge Brown, based in Galveston and appointed by former President Donald Trump, said the government could protect public health with less invasive measures, such as masking and social distancing.

The U.S. Department of Justice said it will appeal the ruling.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said 98% of federal workers are vaccinated or have sought medical or religious exemptions. “We are confident in our legal authority,” she said in response to the judge's ruling.

The judge said it was his understanding that the government was going to begin disciplining non-compliant employees imminently.

The ruling is the latest in a series of court decisions to go against government vaccine requirements.

In mid-January, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the president's COVID-19 vaccination-or-testing mandate for large businesses, a policy conservative justices deemed an improper imposition on the lives and health of many Americans. The court allowed a separate federal vaccine requirement for health care facilities.

A third major vaccine requirement aimed at employees of federal contractors was blocked by a federal judge in December.

COVID-19 has killed more than 800,000 people in the United States in the two-year-long pandemic and has weighed heavily on the economy.

Many large employers such as United Airlines and Tyson Foods Inc. have touted their success in using mandates to get nearly all staff vaccinated. The Supreme Court ruling that blocked the mandate for larger businesses prompted some employers, including Starbucks, to abandon vaccine requirements for staff.