Hospital's COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate Upheld by 1st Circuit

Author: David B. Weisenfeld

April 28, 2022

A Massachusetts hospital system's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all of its more than 93,000 employees has been upheld by the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals. Mass General Brigham, Inc. (MGB) operates 14 hospitals and many other medical facilities across Massachusetts.

Eight unvaccinated employees had challenged the mandate and sought a preliminary injunction to block its enforcement. All had sought religious exemptions from the vaccine mandate that were denied. MGB placed the employees on unpaid leave and later fired six of them (one of the remaining employees quit while the other ultimately got vaccinated).

In ruling for the hospital, the appellate court noted that the vaccine mandate did not require any of the employees to perform or abstain from any action that violates their religious beliefs.

"MGB is not requiring appellants to be vaccinated involuntarily," wrote Circuit Judge Sandra Lynch. "Instead, because [they] have refused to get vaccinated, they have been fired." While the resulting loss of income undoubtedly harms the appellants, the court found that harm was not irreparable.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court upheld an interim rule from the Secretary for Health and Human Services in Biden v. Missouri requiring covered health facilities that treat Medicare and Medicaid patients to ensure their staff are vaccinated against COVID-19. The Court noted that health care workers ordinarily must be vaccinated for diseases such as hepatitis B, the flu, measles and the mumps.

But in a separate ruling issued the same day, the Supreme Court blocked the Biden administration's Emergency Testing Standard (ETS) from taking effect. The ETS would have required employers with 100 or more employees to ensure that their employees be fully vaccinated or submit to weekly COVID testing if they are not.