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State leaders celebrate U.S. Supreme Court vaccine business mandate ruling, lament health-care workers aspect

State leaders celebrate U.S. Supreme Court vaccine business mandate ruling, lament health-care workers aspect

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Oklahoma’s political leaders praised Thursday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision blocking a Biden administration COVID-19 vaccinate-or-test order for large employers while also indicating disappointment that the court left in place a similar mandate for most health care workers.

The rulings do not address the right of individual businesses to require vaccinations or other COVID-19 precautions.

“The Supreme Court’s decision to strike down President Biden’s unlawful vaccine mandates for businesses is an important victory for the individual freedom of Oklahomans and every citizen of this great nation,” Gov. Kevin Stitt said in a written statement.

“From the beginning I have maintained that the vaccine should be a personal choice,” Stitt said. “While I am pleased with the Court’s decision regarding businesses, I am disappointed in its decision to even temporarily uphold the (health care worker) vaccine mandate. No American should lose their job over a vaccine, especially our brave health care workers who have been on the front lines of this pandemic.

“Today’s ruling will not only affect them, but it will also hurt our hospitals’ ability to care for patients during a nationwide staffing shortage.”

The decision comes as many parts of the country, including Oklahoma, are seeing record numbers of new COVID-19 cases, which epidemiologists attribute mostly to the highly infectious but less potent omicron variant.

Oklahoma ranks anywhere from first to 11th nationally in per capita deaths, depending on which calculations are used.

In a follow-up question, Stitt’s office was asked how he would respond to people who are concerned about losing not just jobs but lives because of unvaccinated co-workers.

“Gov. Stitt does not wish for anyone to die,” said a spokeswoman.

Attorney General John O’Connor, who earlier this week told a Tulsa group his Civil Rights Division is heavily engaged in fighting vaccination mandates, also gave a mixed reaction to the split decision.

“Now, individuals who work in the private sector can make health care decisions for themselves and their families — as it should be,” O’Connor said. “This is a major win for job creators and their employees.

“However, we are disappointed with the Court’s decision to allow the enforcement of the Biden Administration’s vaccine mandate for health care workers. The State of Oklahoma is already suffering from health care staffing shortages and the CMS vaccine mandate will only make matters worse, especially in rural Oklahoma.”

U.S. Sen. James Lankford and 1st District Congressman Kevin Hern also weighed in.

“This is a big day for every Oklahoman and American who has lived in fear of having to choose between their health decisions or keeping their job,” said Lankford. “Today’s ruling states what every Oklahoman has known for months: President Biden does not have the authority to reach into every private business to say who should be hired and who should be fired.”

Hern referred to the business mandates as “a long national nightmare” and said, “The federal government should never be in the business of telling job creators who they can and can’t employ based on vaccination status.”

Experts say the latest data indicate that vaccinated individuals may still contract COVID-19, and especially the omicron variant, but that the overwhelming majority of those hospitalized with the infection are unvaccinated.

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About 100 Oklahomans have been able to change their gender marker on their birth certificate since 2018, but late last year Stitt ordered the State Health Department stop issuing nonbinary birth certificates. As a result of the executive order, the Health Department also is no longer authorized to accept court orders for male and female changes, Oklahoma State Department of Health’s legal team said.

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