NYC resident gets vaccinated. The city government says about 83.4 percent of New Yorkers are vaccinated. Photo credit: Jakayla Toney on Unsplash.

SCOTUS blocks Biden’s proposed OSHA vaccine mandate, POTUS urges public to vaccinate anyway

The world is experiencing a polarizing and confusing time. In promising to unite the country, the leader of the free world  rejects a public health decision by Republican-majority, judicial leadership.

Last Thursday, the Supreme Court  rejected the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA)’s request to mandate certain COVID-19 precautions for large U.S. businesses in a 6-3 vote. The President Biden-endorsed “vaccine-or-test” rule required private employers with over 100 laborers to have received one of the approved COVID-19 vaccinations, or get regular testing coupled with wearing a mask in order to work. 

In the decision , SCOTUS members who blocked the mandate found the order could possibly undermine state discretion and law. Ultimately, their position states that the proposed required measures would cost workers time and expense. 

“OSHA has never before imposed such a mandate. Nor has Congress. Indeed, although Congress has enacted significant legislation addressing the COVID–19 pandemic, it has declined to enact any measure similar to what OSHA has promulgated here,” the Court’s conservative majority opined. “OSHA’s mandate exceeds its statutory authority and is otherwise unlawful.”

The decision is in response to an emergency order enacted in November by the U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh via OSHA. The organization says the rules were a response to the proliferation of COVID-19 cases, thanks to the Omicron variant. Citing the devastating impacts of the pandemic on American workers, something had to be done to protect the over 80 million Americans in the workforce.

“We must take action to implement this emergency temporary standard to contain the virus and protect people in the workplace against the grave danger of COVID-19,” mentioned Secretary Walsh in a press release.  “Many businesses understand the benefits of having their workers vaccinated against COVID-19, and we expect many will be pleased to see this OSHA rule go into effect.”

In fact, many workers, including frontline laborers, were displeased. The Courts of Appeals around the country saw a rush of dissent regarding the temporary mandate from states to private businesses. At one point, the Sixth Circuit overturned a stay, or legal restriction, of the OSHA rule by the Fifth Court, temporarily allowing it to take place. Now, some applicants are now seeking emergency aid from the court because OSHA overstepped their bounds. With many citing the choice to get vaccinated as a personal decision, especially one with a less than ideal guarantee of protection against COVID.

“I don’t agree with [the mandate] simply because I don’t feel 100 percent comfortable with the vaccine,” automotive technician Jeffrey Iyunade expressed to Ark Republic. “I don’t think they should tell people what the hell to put in their bodies. Especially in my case, I am just here to turn wrenches for you, I fix cars. Get out of my business. if I don’t want to do it, I ain’t got to do it.”

 | Read: Vax to School: Parents in Queens concerned about COVID-19 vaccine mandates

To date, the available COVID vaccinations have been claimed to stimulate the body’s immune response, rather than act as actual immunization. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only immunity or immunization offer full protection from an infectious disease. This means that if immune, you can come across the disease without infection. Although helping to suppress symptoms in vulnerable populations, none of the vaccines are 100 percent effective. 

That said, OSHA claimed their solution would save an estimated 6,500 lives and prevent more than 250,000 hospitalizations, with 23 million being vaccinated. This being the basis of dissent for Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor–the court’s three liberals. 

In their joint dissenting opinion, they wrote the “[Court’s negation] stymies the Federal Government’s ability to counter the unparalleled threat that COVID–19 poses to our Nation’s workers. Acting outside of its competence and without legal basis, the Court displaces the judgments of the Government officials given the responsibility to respond to workplace health emergencies.”  

Joining in the disapproval of dissenting justices, a statement by President Biden laments, “I am disappointed that the Supreme Court has chosen to block common-sense life-saving requirements for employees at large businesses that were grounded squarely in both science and the law. This emergency standard allowed… a very modest burden.”

Biden then made a plea. “I call on business leaders to immediately join those who have already stepped up – including one third of Fortune 100 companies – and institute vaccination requirements to protect their workers, customers, and communities.”

Nevertheless, the court is allowing a vaccine mandate for most U.S healthcare workers in a 5-4 ruling; especially for those ranging from hospitals to nursing homes who receive Medicare and Medicaid funds. 

Many workers feel as though they are being strong-armed into a medical decision, one akin to abortion rights and the like. To which, Democrats popularly side with “pro-choice,” or individual-based decisions. Hence, many accuse the Administration of hypocrisy.  

“Pure cognitive dissonance, how can we recognize the right for some and not others?,” questioned Andrea Fosuhene, MPH. “People are afforded the choice, rightfully, to get an abortion because it is your body. Yet, in healthcare, the government gets to decide. You cannot have it both ways. People are getting more desperate by the day, it would not be smart to force out nor threaten the experts.”

. . . .

Yet with the birthday and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. upon us, one reflects on his commitment to and the right of laborers. During his labor movement, Dr. King was a union supporter of sorts, advocating for pro-worker measures like decent wages and fair working conditions, as well as negotiation tools like collective bargaining

At this time, workers’ rights are paramount. Amidst a public health crisis, there is a shortage of nurses and doctors. Voluntary resignations due to burnout, or terminations have been cited as some of the main reasons for the exodus. Purportedly, one in five healthcare workers have left the medical field as reported by Becker’s Hospital Review in November

If medical professionals continue to leave, concerns rise with the escalation of patients following the new variants. What is clear– introducing third and fourth boosters has not alleviated COVID case numbers.   

Yolanda Aguilera focuses on culture, policy, domestic, international relations, and the African and Latin Diasporas.

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