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Photo: Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

A federal judge ruled Friday that a health care provider serving the Northern Kentucky and Greater Cincinnati region can issue mandates requiring its more than 10,000 employees to get vaccinated or risk termination.

Why it matters: It's the latest ruling to uphold U.S. private employers' right to issue vaccine mandates, and comes after President Biden signed an executive order requiring vaccinations or once-a-week testing for companies with more than 100 employees.

What they're saying: St. Elizabeth Healthcare employees failed to show that the hospital operator's vaccine requirement violates individual liberties, U.S. District Court Judge David Bunning wrote in the decision.

  • Because the operator retains the right to set terms for employment, the mandate holds, Bunning said.
  • Citing a 1905 U.S. Supreme Court decision that upheld a Massachusetts smallpox vaccination mandate, Bunning noted that "[a]ctual liberty for all of us cannot exist where individual liberties override potential injury done to others."
  • Though he acknowledged workers' concerns about the vaccine, "suspicions cannot override the law."
  • "If an employee believes his or her individual liberties are more important than legally permissible conditions on his or her employment, that employee can and should choose to exercise another individual liberty, no less significant — the right to seek other employment," Bunning wrote.

Context: St. Elizabeth, the largest employer in Northern Kentucky, announced on Aug. 5 that workers without religious or medical exemptions would be required to get the shots by Oct. 1.

  • Employees who are denied exemptions have until Nov. 1 to get fully vaccinated.
  • Attorneys filed a lawsuit early this month on behalf of dozens of employees, asking Bunning to declare the mandate invalid. They'd asked the judge to block the mandate while the case is heard in court.

What they're saying: Mark Guilfoyle, the attorney representing St. Elizabeth, said in an interview with The Cincinnati Enquirer that the decision "could not be more strongly in our favor."

  • "This is great news for St. Elizabeth patients, for St. Elizabeth associates and for our whole community," Guilfoyle said. "This mandate is going to help reduce community spread, and it's going to help keep people out of the hospital, which is already stressed."
  • A spokesperson for the firm representing the employees called the decision a "setback" and "wrong" in a video posted Friday. "We lost here, which we thought was our strongest chance at winning, so that has to be factored in on what we do from here."

Go deeper

Judge rejects Southwest pilots' challenge to vaccine mandate

A Southwest Airlines plane leaves the gate at Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport on Oct. 21. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

A judge ruled that Southwest Airlines can mandate its 9,000 pilots to be vaccinated against COVID-19, declining a union request for a restraining order on the policy, per AP.

Details: U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn said in her ruling against the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association on Tuesday that the airline was meeting its goal on air transportation safety and "providing 'safe and reasonable working conditions' for pilots, by preventing the spread of disease" with the requirement, the Dallas Morning News noted.

Updated 16 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Vaccines: CDC says some immunocompromised people can get fourth COVID shot — FDA panel endorses Pfizer vaccines for 5-11 year olds — Moderna says vaccine shows strong immune response in kids
  2. Health: COVID cases, deaths at meat plants were far higher than previously thought — 96% of Tyson Foods employees vaccinated ahead of mandate deadline — U.S. releases updated vaccination, testing rules for foreign travelers
  3. Politics: Louisiana lifts mask mandate except for some schools — Alabama governor orders state agencies to fight federal vaccine mandate — Axios-Ipsos poll: Confidence in Biden COVID recovery tumbles
  4. Education: Benefits of vaccine for children outweigh risks, FDA says — Education secretary reveals limits to Biden’s mask push on states — LA extends deadline for school employee vaccinations.
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.
23 hours ago - Health

COVID cases, deaths at meat plants were far higher than previously thought

Tyson Foods in Portland, Maine, in 2020. Photo: Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Cases and deaths from COVID-19 among workers at the five largest U.S. meatpacking companies were nearly three times higher than previously thought, according to a memo from the House panel probing the response to the pandemic.

Driving the news: At least 59,000 workers contracted COVID-19 and 269 workers died at Tyson Foods, JBS USA, Cargill, National Beef and Smithfield Foods — which together make up more than 80% of the beef market and 60% of the pork market in the U.S. — according to counts through January of this year.

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