Gov. Jim Justice
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) Credit: Scott Halleran/Getty Images Plus

A pair of Republican governors have asked the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services for temporary relief from the healthcare worker COVID-19 vaccine mandate for rural providers and state-run facilities. 

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) and West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) made the request on Monday in a letter to CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure. Both governors, who have objected to the rule previously, said they recognize the Supreme Court ruling that upheld the regulation but argued an “urgent staffing crisis” warrants relief. 

Enforcement of the rule has already begun in the states that didn’t challenge the mandate, which include Virginia. The first compliance deadline for states that challenged the rule, which includes West Virginia, is Feb. 13.

“As you undoubtedly know, our healthcare facilities are strained,” the governors wrote. “Unfortunately, the CMS interim rule compounds this problem, potentially forcing thousands of healthcare professionals to be fired for failing to comply with the rule’s requirement to be vaccinated.” 

The governors added they’re concerned about the potential long-term impact on quality of care if “thousands” of healthcare professionals aren’t allowed to work due to the mandate — particularly in rural areas where access to healthcare may be scarce. 

The letter writers said a limited waiver on the interim rule for rural and state-run facilities could take multiple forms, including flexibility on enforcement or a six-month delay of the rule. They did not specify a deadline for a response from CMS. 

“Our health teams are on standby to define the terms of this waiver to protect our most vulnerable healthcare systems and facilities from a staffing breakdown,” they concluded. 

CMS Administrator Brooks-LaSure issued a letter Tuesday to the nation’s healthcare administrators, urging them to increase vaccination efforts with mandate deadlines quickly approaching.