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The Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.

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A federal district judge on Tuesday blocked a federal vaccine mandate for health care workers in a case brought by a dozen state attorneys general, including Montana’s.

Judge Terry Doughty, of the U.S. District Court Western District of Louisiana, wrote in his order the injunction against the mandate applies nationwide.

The requirement, announced by the Biden administration in September, would have required all health care providers to vaccinate employees by Jan. 4 or forfeit federal reimbursements for care under Medicare and Medicaid. Montana was one of a dozen states that challenged the rule on Nov. 15, arguing the regulation exceeds the statutory authority of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, the Social Security Act, the Congressional Review Act and other federal laws.

The challenge is the third such attempt to knock down the rule by President Joe Biden to drive up the country’s vaccination rate against COVID-19. Attorneys general including Montana’s Austin Knudsen have argued the mandate is an “unprecedented overreach” and would further exacerbate the workforce shortage across the health care industry.

The mandate has spurred protests around the country and in Montana. Knudsen reportedly spoke to Sidney health care workers who oppose the mandate at a private meeting Monday evening.

“In the past weeks, I’ve heard from health care workers across our state whose jobs were being threatened if they did not comply with President Biden’s overreaching federal mandate,” Knudsen said in an emailed statement Tuesday. “With the CMS mandate now blocked in Montana until the case is decided, medical facilities have no reason to threaten their employees if they don’t get the vaccine.”

Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen

Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen.

Doughty wrote in his order the case will ultimately be decided by a higher court than his own, but said it was important to preserve the status quo for the duration of the case.

“The liberty interests of the unvaccinated requires nothing less,” he wrote.

The nationwide scope of the injunction against the mandate will maintain uniformity during the case, Doughty added. Ten states received a similar injunction order issued Monday by a federal judge presiding over a similar challenge in Missouri.

In court filings, attorneys for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have argued that Congress has assigned the secretary of HHS to “ensure the health and safety of patients are protected in these federally-funded facilities,” as COVID-19 has overtaken the 1918 influenza pandemic as the deadliest disease in American history.

In October, Knudsen also signed onto a lawsuit challenging Biden’s vaccine mandate for federal contractors; the U.S. Magistrate in that case has not yet ruled. In November, Knudsen again joined 11 other attorneys general in asking a federal appeals court to throw out another part of the president’s package of vaccine requirements, under which the Occupational Safety and Health Administration would require employees of all businesses with 100 or more employees to be fully vaccinated or face weekly COVID testing. A judge has paused that requirement while legal proceedings advance.

Gov. Greg Gianforte joined Knudsen Tuesday in applauding the ruling.

“Hundreds of Montanans at risk of losing their livelihoods from the president’s unlawful overreach can now breathe a sigh of relief. Not only is the president’s mandate unconstitutional, but it would devastate Montana health care providers already struggling with a long-standing worker shortage,” Gianforte said in a separate press release Tuesday. “Discrimination based on vaccination status is illegal in Montana, and we’ll continue to work to protect the rights of Montanans.”

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