KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Several Knoxville area hospital groups have paused a requirement that all employees be vaccinated against COVID-19 after a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction blocking a vaccination mandate by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Covenant Health, Tennova Healthcare, East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, the University of Tennessee Medical Center and Blount Memorial Hospital said Wednesday they will pause a requirement that all employees be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4, 2022.

The preliminary injunction issued Tuesday by St. Louis-based U.S. District Judge Matthew Schelp blocked President Joe Biden’s administration from enforcing a coronavirus vaccine mandate on thousands of health care workers in 10 states that had brought the first legal challenge against the requirement.

Covenant Health was one of several Knoxville-area hospital groups that announced last month they would require all health care workers be vaccinated against COVID-19 ahead of a Jan. 4 deadline after the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a COVID-19 vaccination mandate.

The federal rule requires COVID-19 vaccinations for more than 17 million workers nationwide in about 76,000 health care facilities and home health care providers that get funding from the government health programs.

“More than 55% of our patients rely on Medicare, and in order to continue caring for our communities, we were required to comply with the federal mandate by Jan. 4, 2022. 

A preliminary injunction has now paused CMS enforcement of the vaccine mandate. In conjunction with this development, Covenant Health also will pause our requirement for employees to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4.”

Covenant Health statement

A Covenant Health spokesperson said in a statement that 90% of employee and medical staff were in compliance with the mandate.

“We continue to strongly urge all employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccination, and are currently offering vaccinations to employees who have not yet received them,” according to a spokesperson.

A spokesperson for East Tennessee Children’s Hospital released a statement:

“Children’s Hospital will continue to encourage COVID-19 vaccination for all employees, but no one will be suspended from employment as a result of the CMS requirement at this time. The leadership team at Children’s Hospital will continue to monitor federal court decisions with the understanding that further legal review could reverse this decision at any time.”

Covenant Health hospitals consist of Claiborne Medical Center, Cumberland Medical Center, Fort Loudoun Medical Center, Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center, LeConte Medical Center, Methodist Medical Center of Oak Ridge, Morristown-Hamblen Healthcare System, Parkwest Medical Center and the Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center.

Editor’s Note: This story previously referenced a preliminary injunction issued by a different federal judge as the reason for the pause. The story has been corrected.

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