Judge refuses to block RI vaccine mandate as Friday deadline looms

Coronavirus

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A requirement for all employees of state-licensed health care facilities in Rhode Island to get vaccinated against COVID-19 will be enforced starting Friday.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Mary McElroy denied a request for a temporary restraining order filed by four anonymous health care workers claiming the mandate violated their rights because it doesn’t allow for religious exemptions.

In her decision, McElroy wrote that she found “the plaintiffs have not demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of these claims.”

“As to the constitutional claims, courts have held for over a century that mandatory vaccination laws are a valid exercise of a state’s police powers, and such laws have withstood constitutional challenges,” McElroy continued.

The mandate does allow exemptions for medical reasons.

McElroy heard arguments from both sides in a remote hearing Wednesday. She questioned how the COVID-19 vaccine differs from any others needed to work in health care, like the flu or MMR vaccines.

Health care workers who are not fully vaccinated by the Oct. 1 deadline run the risk of losing their jobs.

Care New England, the state’s second-largest hospital group, told 12 News about 95% of its workforce is vaccinated to date.

“As health care workers, we are committed to providing an environment that is safe and healthy for patients, as well as staff,” CEO James Fanale, MD, said in a statement. “As of October 1, any Care New England health care worker who is not vaccinated will not be allowed to work.”

Fanale said Care New England’s hospitals have contingency plans in place should any employees choose not to work after the deadline passes.

During a COVID-19 briefing on Thursday, Gov. Dan McKee echoed Fanale’s remarks, calling the vaccine protocol “crucial.”

“Our health care workers have to be vaccinated to stay healthy and to keep others healthy,” he said. “We cannot put vulnerable patients at risk when they come to our facilities seeking care.”

Earlier this week, a state judge denied a similar challenge to the mandate from a group of firefighter unions.

Tim White contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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