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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

Updated Dec 7, 2021 - Health

CDC: 60% of U.S. is fully vaccinated

Photo: Nick Oxford/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Sixty percent of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Why it matters: This comes as the Omicron variant continues to spread across the U.S. It has been detected in 19 states, and the number is expected to increase, CDC director Rochelle Walensky said during Tuesday's White House COVID-19 briefing.

Dec 7, 2021 - Health

Report: COVID exacerbated young people's "unprecedented" mental health challenges

Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy speaks during a press briefing in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. on July 15. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. surgeon general warned on Tuesday young people face "unprecedented" mental health challenges — and the pandemic has only made matters worse.

Why it matters: Depression, suicidal ideation and emergency room visits for mental health reasons have risen significantly in young people, according to the 53-page advisory from the country's top physician, Dr. Vivek H. Murthy.

Mike Allen, author of AM
27 mins ago - Politics & Policy

First look: Anita Dunn advises Dems on economy message for '22

Signs from a President Biden event yesterday in Kansas City, Mo. Photo: Chase Castor/Bloomberg via Getty Images

In a midterm preview, top Democratic strategist Anita Dunn advises the party's House and Senate members to frame Republicans "as being against the economic interests of working Americans."

What she's saying: "Explicitly framing Republicans as opposing policies to lower costs does better than simply framing Republicans as the 'party of no,'" Dunn, White House senior adviser until August, writes in the memo.

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