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Supreme Court has ruled in favor of a vaccine mandate for many health care workers

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

And now I want to bring in NPR's labor and workplace correspondent Andrea Hsu, who's been listening in.

Hi, Andrea.

ANDREA HSU, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: What stood out to you from what we just heard from the CMS administrator?

HSU: Well, she is right to say that this - yeah, they should be very happy about this. It is a win for the Biden administration. After all, it applies to most health care workers in the U.S., a little over 10 million workers. You know, these are people who work in hospitals, home health agencies and nursing homes. And in some parts of the country, Ari, vaccination rates remain lower than you might imagine. You know, in some places, it might be around 70%.

So this will achieve what Biden set out to do - get more workers vaccinated and try to curb this pandemic in a very specific setting, health care. But as you mentioned, you know, the administration lost in a much broader case. The Supreme Court blocked the OSHA rule requiring workers at medium and large companies to get vaccinated or tested once a week. And that rule applied to a lot more workers, about 84 million workers. You know, that's about two-thirds of private sector workers in this country.

SHAPIRO: Does the White House have any other tools at its disposal that might encourage those workers to get vaccinated?

HSU: Well, this afternoon President Biden said through a statement, you know, it's up to states and individual employers to make their workplaces as safe as possible. And he urged business leaders to set their own vaccine requirements. But, you know, as the administrator just mentioned, you know, this has been an especially hard past few weeks for employers all over the country, with so many of their own workers out with omicron, even those who have been fully vaccinated.

You know, we saw tens of thousands of flight cancellations over the holidays because airline staff were calling in sick. We've seen places like Macy's have to shorten their hours. They're opening, you know, an hour late and closing an hour early nationwide this month because of staffing shortages due to omicron. Workers are stressed. They're burnt out. And so a lot of employers may hesitate before imposing new requirements on them.

SHAPIRO: And while the Supreme Court has struck down a federal mandate, that certainly doesn't prevent companies from requiring workers to get vaccinated. Is that something we're seeing in workplaces across the country, particularly with this omicron surge?

HSU: I don't know that we've seen any new requirements, you know, the last few weeks. But certainly, a lot of companies have imposed their own requirements and, you know, with pretty high success rates. You saw places like United Airlines get to more than, I think, 97% vaccinated. And this week their CEO, Scott Kirby, said even though they've had thousands of workers out sick, the vaccine mandates saved lives, that none of their vaccinated employees who were out with omicron were currently hospitalized. So I think that there are companies that are going to do this even if there isn't a federal requirement.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Andrea Hsu on a mixed pair of rulings on vaccine rules from the Supreme Court today.

Andrea, thanks a lot.

HSU: Thanks, Ari.

(SOUNDBITE OF COOPER SAMS' "WHITE WAVES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrea Hsu is NPR's labor and workplace correspondent.

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