Judge rejects health care vaccine choice law

HELENA, Mont. — A person’s choice to refuse vaccinations is outweighed by public health and safety requirements in medical settings, a federal judge ruled in a Montana case.

U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy last week permanently blocked a piece of law that the state said was designed to prevent employers β€” including many healthcare facilities β€” from discriminating against workers by requiring them to be vaccinated against communicable diseases, including COVID-19.

β€œThe public interest in protecting the general population against vaccine-preventable health care diseases using safe, effective vaccines is outweighed by the hardships experienced in achieving that interest,” Molloy concluded in his 9 December.

The Montana legislature passed the nation’s first law in 2021, about a year after the pandemic, as some people, businesses and Republican lawmakers pushed back health care measures taken to contain the spread of the virus. prevent has now killed more than 1 million people in the United States. Just over 3,600 Montana residents have died from COVID-19, state officials say.

Montana law made it illegal for an individual to refuse services, goods or employment based on their vaccine status. The law did not change vaccination requirements in schools or daycare centers, nor did it eliminate a person’s right to seek a religious or medical exception.

Republican lawmakers who supported the bill said it was necessary in response to employers threatening to fire workers who wouldn’t get vaccinated.

Before signing the bill into law, Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte asked lawmakers to change it to allow long-term care facilities to require workers to get COVID-19 vaccines if it didn’t mean the facility could lose funding under a federal directive.

The federal directive was recently challenged by attorneys general in 22 states, including Montana.

The Montana Medical Association, clinics and immunocompromised patients filed a lawsuit against the state in September 2021 and later joined by the Montana Nurses Association. They argued, and Molloy agreed, that treating clinics and hospitals differently than long-term care facilities made no sense for a law the state said was designed to prevent discrimination and protect private health information.

The plaintiffs argued that in some cases, the same people may work in all three types of facilities on the same day.

Prosecutors successfully argued that the law violates the Americans With Disabilities Act, which requires public facilities to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities. A patient with a suppressed immune system would be vulnerable if treated in a healthcare facility where workers had not been vaccinated, Molloy felt.

The law also violated federal health and safety law by failing to keep the workplace clear of recognized hazards, he said. The plaintiffs proved that vaccine-preventable diseases are a recognized health hazard, Molloy wrote.

“The Court’s order is a victory for all Montana residents — young or old, healthy or sick — who no longer have to worry about government interference with the safety of their health care in Montana,” said Vicky Byrd, CEO of the Montana Nurses Association. a statement.

Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen is studying the advice to determine his next steps, spokeswoman Emilee Cantrell said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Knudsen leads a group of attorneys general challenging the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services requires healthcare workers in long-term care facilities to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The challenge states that the vaccine does not prevent the spread of the virus, that breakthrough infections are common and that the vaccines themselves are not entirely risk-free.

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