A federal judge on Thursday blocked a Texas statute that would have required nearly all state health professionals to obtain immunization waivers for employees. But he gave health officials the right to lift the mandate within a week.
The Texas judge based his decision on a state statute approved by the Legislature this year. It included a provision that would require nearly all health professionals who work in health care facilities “to obtain a medical exemption from the vaccine requirement.”
Vaccine waivers allow children to avoid receiving recommended immunizations for influenza and other preventable diseases.
But the judge said the requirement unfairly compelled health professionals to undergo medical examinations for vaccine waivers that they are free to obtain on their own without fear of repercussion.
“By forcing health care providers to obtain immunization waivers,” the judge wrote, “this statute simply changes the nature of the medical standard for mandatory education to grant access to free vaccinations by threat of losing their state license to practice medicine.”
The judge’s order grants health officials the right to end the mandate, though it’s unclear when that would happen. Texas health officials said earlier this week that they are actively analyzing the judge’s order and looking for a “timeline for implementation.”
State Health Commissioner Christie Hickman, a Democrat who was appointed to the position in 2015, told The New York Times she was “very pleased” with the judge’s ruling.
“I am hopeful this ruling will put an end to the coercive, and grossly unconstitutional law that threatens to turn the delivery of health care into a state-sponsored political issue,” she said.
Shortly after the judge’s ruling, state officials unveiled a version of the state’s temporary vaccine mandate that directs any doctors, nurses, or clinics that encounter a “noncompliant” employee to inform the government, not the clinic or doctor.
“Ultimately, a noncompliant health care worker will face both administrative and state medical license revocation,” Hickman said.
The only exemption given by health officials for their vaccination mandate is for children under the age of 18 who have a medical condition that would cause them to have a “permanent or serious adverse reaction” if they receive the vaccine. But the judge said Thursday that some health professionals working with children didn’t meet that exception.
“Such a statutory carve-out merely provides refuge for doctors,” the judge wrote, “even as it forces others to intrude upon their protected First Amendment freedom of association.”