A top Florida health official is urging the U.S. government to rescind its COVID-19 vaccine mandate as an increasing number of vaccinated people, including President Joe Biden, contract COVID-19.
“The President’s diagnosis confirms the science: although the COVID-19 vaccine reduces the risk of hospitalization, it does not prevent transmission or symptomatic disease,” Simone Marstiller, secretary of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, said on July 25.
“In fact, based on published reports by the U.K. Government, the risk reduction attributed for the vaccine significantly decreases within two months of receiving a booster. Despite these incontrovertible facts, your agency continues to enforce its arbitrary ’emergency’ rule mandating that health care workers be vaccinated for COVID-19 or lose their jobs,” she added, writing to Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, the administrator of the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).
Biden received four doses of Pfizer’s vaccine before he became sick with COVID-19, experiencing symptoms such as a sore throat and fatigue.
Under Biden’s direction, CMS in 2021 imposed a proof of vaccination requirement on all health care facilities that receive Medicare or Medicaid funding. The vaccine mandate cited studies that showed vaccination was effective in preventing infection from SARS-CoV-2—also known as—and that the effectiveness would mean lower numbers of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.
The studies, though, were all from an era before the Omicron variant of the virus was dominant in the United States. Since Omicron emerged, the vaccines have been shown to provide little protection against infection, and much less protection against severe illness.
CMS has kept the rule in place. In its most recent guidance (pdf) on the mandate, the agency said that vaccines “are safe and effective at preventing severe illness from COVID-19 and limiting the spread of the virus that causes it.” The rule was originally estimated to cover about 17 million workers, but was later said to only cover 10.4 million.
Besides the reduced vaccine effectiveness, Marstiller said the Biden administration should take into account how the mandate is negatively impacting health care businesses.
“With inflation at an all-time high, your continued enforcement of this mandate is impacting the ability of health care providers to recruit and retain workers, keep health care costs low, and maintain sufficient resources to serve individuals in their care,” she said, arguing that “CMS continues to put our health care system at risk of collapse.”
A number of employers have cited the rule as causing staff shortages or other related issues.
Florida law bars businesses from requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination, and Marstiller’s agency in January informed CMS that Florida would not send out surveyors to determine which facilities were complying with the mandate. Since then, CMS has assessed a fine and hired staff on its own to enforce the mandate, according to Marstiller.
“That hardly seems like good use of taxpayer dollars considering what we know to be true: COVID-19 vaccines do not protect anyone from contracting or transmitting the virus,” she told Brooks-LaSure.
“Given these facts, I write to you today on behalf of our hardworking men and women in health care to request that you formally withdraw this ’emergency’ rule and get our health care: system focused on whole person health like combating the opioid epidemic, reducing the number of Americans struggling with obesity, and finding a cure for cancer,” she added.
CMS declined to immediately comment on the letter.