"When we are wise, we know enough to defer on matters like this one. When we are wise, we know not to displace the judgment of experts, acting within the sphere Congress marked out and under Presidential control, to deal with emergency conditions," the dissent states. "Today, we are not wise."
Rule for health care workers stands
The health care worker vaccination mandate applies to an estimated 17 million people working at some 76,000 government-funded health care facilities. The vaccination requirement is set to take effect on Jan. 27, according to a Dec. 28 memo from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
The Biden administration said the authority for the health care worker mandate comes from the Social Social Security Act, which authorizes the Secretary of Health and Human Services to “make and publish such rules and regulations” that “may be necessary to the efficient administration” of Medicare and Medicaid programs.
"The challenges posed by a global pandemic do not allow a federal agency to exercise power that Congress has not conferred upon it," the majority decision in the health care worker case states. "At the same time such unprecedented circumstances provide no grounds for limiting the exercise of authorities the agency has long been recognized to have."
Conservative justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito each wrote dissents.
"If Congress had wanted to grant CMS authority to impose a nationwide vaccine mandate, and consequently alter the state-federal balance, it would have said so clearly. It did not," Thomas states.
"These cases are not about the efficacy or importance of COVID-19 vaccines," he continued. "They are only about whether CMS has the statutory authority to force health care workers, by coercing their employers, to undergo a medical procedure they do not want and cannot undo."
The court has already allowed state vaccination mandates for health care workers in Maine and New York to take effect, despite the absence of religious exemptions.
In light of the decision on the mandate for businesses, some states may adopt the same or similar requirements as the ones laid out in the OSHA policy, as Illinois has done already.
A surge in new cases
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The court's decisions come almost two years since the first reported COVID-19 case in the United States, on Jan. 21, 2020. Since then the U.S. has reported 63,203,443 cases, and 844,562 deaths, according to data reported by Johns Hopkins University.
Meanwhile, the unpredictable course of the virus continues to bedevil health experts. To date, 63% of the U.S. population, and 72% of those 12 and over, are fully vaccinated, and more than a third of Americans have received booster shots on top of their vaccinations, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC.)
Yet despite widespread vaccinations, and other government measures aimed at slowing the virus' spread, there have been millions of new cases in recent weeks attributed to the latest Omicron variant. The rapid transmission of Omicron, even among the fully vaccinated, raised fresh questions about the effectiveness of the government's vaccination requirements.
Millions of Americans, including many Catholics, remain opposed to vaccination for a variety of reasons. These include concerns about possible side effects and long-term harm from the vaccines, opposition to government coercion, and conscientious objections related to the use of cell lines derived from the fetal tissue of aborted babies that were used in the development or testing of the vaccines.
Pope Francis and the Vatican have strongly advocated for vaccination, but not always in a consistent manner.
In its note supporting the licit use of the vaccines, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has emphasized that “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation and that, therefore, it must be voluntary.”