Court blocks US fed employee vax mandate

David Shepardson, Tom Hals and Diane BartzReuters
The US government cannot require federal employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, a judge says.
Camera IconThe US government cannot require federal employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, a judge says. Credit: AP

A judge in Texas has ruled that President Joe Biden could not require federal employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and blocked the US government from disciplining employees who failed to comply.

It was the latest setback to White House efforts to require various groups of American workers to get vaccinated.

Biden had issued an order requiring about 3.5 million government workers to get vaccinated by November 22 barring a religious or medical accommodation -- or else face discipline or firing.

US District Judge Jeffrey Brown on Friday 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".

Brown, appointed by then-president Donald Trump, said the government could protect public health with less invasive measures, such as masking and social distancing.

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

The White House said more than 93 per cent of federal employees have received at least one vaccination and 98 per cent have been vaccinated or are seeking a religious or medical exemption.

"We are confident in our legal authority," White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in response to the judge's ruling.

The Justice Department on Friday said it would appeal the ruling. The government has noted numerous other courts that had rejected similar challenges and that federal agencies have said they will not discipline or punish employees with pending exemption requests.

In mid-January, the US 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.

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

COVID-19 has killed more than 860,000 people in the United States in the two-year-long pandemic and has weighed heavily on the economy.

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