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Federal court blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers

President Biden speaks in October about the coronavirus pandemic and encouraged states and businesses to support vaccine mandates.
Drew Angerer
Getty Images
President Biden speaks in October about the coronavirus pandemic and encouraged states and businesses to support vaccine mandates.

Updated January 23, 2022 at 12:00 PM ET

A federal court in Texas on Friday blocked the Biden administration's vaccine requirement for federal workers, which has been in place since November, in a ruling that the administration is expected to appeal.

President Biden announced in September that he would require the federal workforce of over 3.5 million people to be vaccinated, unless they had a medical or religious exemption. According to the White House, as of Friday, 98% of federal workers were in compliance with the policy, and over 92% of federal workers had already received at least one vaccine dose when the mandate took effect in December.

The U.S. Justice Department said it would appeal the ruling, according to a report by Reuters.

The injunction comes just over a week after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the vaccine-or-test rule for large private employers; justices left in place the vaccination mandate for health care workers at facilities receiving Medicare and Medicaid funding.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Brown, a nominee of former President Donald Trump, said he was issuing the injunction because federal employees would meet the legal standard of facing "irreparable harm" if they "must choose between violating a mandate of doubtful validity or consenting to an unwanted medical procedure that cannot be undone."

Brown cited that the Fifth Circuit has ruled that lost wages are not necessarily considered irreparable harm but said federal employees who did not comply with the mandate could lose out on "significant employment opportunities in their chosen profession" and that would also be irreparable harm, in his view.

Despite the legal blockades to a federal mandate, private companies can still put in place rules for their employees to get vaccinated or face formal reprimand.

While some companies, like Starbucks, have dropped the vaccine-or-test requirement amid the new legal rulings, others, like United Airlines, have remained resolved on their internal vaccine policies.

Just over the weekend, workwear company Carhartt faced conservative outcry for reiterating its company policy mandating vaccinations for its employees.

"Pretty rich from a company sustained by the ranchers, farmers, laborers, etc. who make this country great and celebrate her values of freedom and liberty. Boycott Carhartt until they break," conservative lawyer Molly McCann wrote on Twitter.

The United States is now averaging more than 700,000 cases of the coronavirus every day.

Some 860,000 Americans have died so far from the virus, and 77% of hospitals are under high or extreme stress amid the surge of cases.

The science remains clear that unvaccinated people are significantly more likely to face severe illness, hospitalization and death from the coronavirus than those who have received the vaccine.

Editor's note: This story originally cited the White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki saying that 98% of federal workers were vaccinated. The White House corrected those remarks to state that 98% of federal workers were in compliance with the policy, either vaccinated or excused due to a religious or medical exemption. This story has been updated with the correct statistic.

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Alana Wise joined WAMU in September 2018 as the 2018-2020 Audion Reporting Fellow for Guns & America. Selected as one of 10 recipients nationwide of the Audion Reporting Fellowship, Alana works in the WAMU newsroom as part of a national reporting project and is spending two years focusing on the impact of guns in the Washington region.Prior to joining WAMU, Wise was a politics and later companies news reporter at Reuters, where she covered the 2016 presidential election and the U.S. airline industry. Ever the fan of cherry blossoms and unpredictable weather, Alana, an Atlanta native and Howard University graduate, can be found roaming the city admiring puppies and the national monuments, in that order.
Alana Wise
Alana Wise is a politics reporter on the Washington desk at NPR.