COVID vaccine in hands of caregiver

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services on Wednesday afternoon issued a final rule lifting the COVID-19 vaccination mandate for healthcare workers by early August.

The details came in a document set to be published in the Federal Register on June 5. The rule would go into effect 60 days later.

It withdraws controversial regulations in a November 2021 interim final rule that required an initial COVId-19 vaccines for all staff working long-term care facilities. The mandate went into effect in January 2022, following a series of legal challenges that led to a historic Supreme Court decision allowing the mandate to stand.

CMS in the pre-publication rule continued to credit the mandate, as well as testing and vaccine education requirements, with slowing COVID-related deaths in nursing homes. It said it would continue to rely on data reporting to monitor the virus’ evolution and affect on residents and staff.

“Due to the success of [previous interim final rules] in encouraging both staff and patient vaccination in healthcare settings, the evolution of SARS-CoV-2 toward variants whose adverse health impacts are on average less severe, and improved medications and reduced stresses on hospitals and other healthcare facilities, rates of severe illness and of death have both radically decreased since the staff vaccination IFC was issued,” the agency said.

“Of particular importance, the interactive effect of both staff and patient COVID-19 vaccination rates reaching or approaching 90 percent has helped each group protect the other,” the agency added. “Vaccinating staff protects both staff and patients, as does vaccinating patients. In this regard, we emphasize that our current and planned use of data on both staff and patient vaccination rates will maintain consistent pressure on the healthcare providers and suppliers regulated by CMS to maintain and improve current success rates.”

The vaccination rule was said to have covered more than 10 million healthcare workers, but some providers had blamed it for chasing some employees or prospective employees away from the sector during a major labor crisis.

The White House had announced May 1 that it would end vaccination requirements for CMS-certified healthcare facilities, along with federal employees, some educators and noncitizens crossing the border. Despite promising details “in coming days,” Wednesday’s document provided the first information that allows skilled nursing providers to plan for a future without mandatory vaccinations.

CMS Wednesday said its educate-and-offer requirements, which continue in effect, and a new quality measure requiring more vaccination data would help maintain gains nursing homes had made in preventing COVID.

This is a developing story. Please check back for details.