Covid-19 roundup: Supreme Court blocks Biden administration's vaccine mandate for large businesses; South Africa study suggests J&J booster is 85% effective against hospitalization
The Supreme Court voted on Thursday to block President Joe Biden’s vaccine-or-testing mandate for large businesses while upholding a vaccine requirement for health care workers at facilities receiving federal money.
The requirement would have required employees at large companies to either get vaccinated or test once a week. On Thursday, Biden expressed his disappointment in the court’s decision.
“As a result of the Court’s decision, it is now up to States and individual employers to determine whether to make their workplaces as safe as possible for employees and whether their businesses will be safe for consumers during this pandemic by requiring employees to take the simple and effective step of getting vaccinated,” he said in a statement.
The court voted 6 to 3 to block the mandate for large businesses, with the liberal justices in dissent, and 5 to 4 in the health care case, with chief justice John Roberts Jr. and justice Brett Kavanaugh joining the liberal justices in the majority, according to the New York Times.
When the Biden administration began instituting vaccine requirements last July — which applied to health care workers, members of the Armed Forces, federal workers and contractors, and employees of large firms — 90 million Americans were still unvaccinated. Now, that number is down to less than 35 million, according to Biden.
The vaccine requirement for health care workers applies to about 10.4 million employees at 76,000 facilities, he said in a statement.
In a dissenting opinion in the large firms’ case, justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan argued that regulating safety in the workplace is OSHA’s job. “If OSHA’s Standard is far-reaching—applying to many millions of American workers—it no more than reflects the scope of the crisis,” they wrote, adding:
Underlying everything else in this dispute is a single, simple question: Who decides how much protection, and of what kind, American workers need from COVID–19? An agency with expertise in workplace health and safety, acting as Congress and the President authorized? Or a court, lacking any knowledge of how to safeguard workplaces, and insulated from responsibility for any damage it causes?
South Africa study suggests J&J booster is 85% effective against hospitalization
A new study conducted in South Africa suggests that a booster dose of Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine was 85% effective against hospitalization in an area where the Omicron variant was the dominant strain, South Africa’s Medical Research Council (SAMRC) announced.
Health care workers in the study were followed for about a month (from November to December), during which time the Omicron variant increased from 82% of cases in South Africa to 98% of cases. When a booster dose was administered six to nine months after the primary dose, vaccine efficacy against hospitalization increased from 63% within the first 13 days post-boost, to 85% at one to two months post-boost, according to the SAMRC.
In the US, it’s recommended that individuals who received the J&J vaccine get boosted as soon as two months following the primary dose.
It’s important to note that the data have been submitted to medRxiv, but have not been peer-reviewed.
“Even before you factor in the increased infectiousness of Omicron, we have to remember that healthcare workers on the frontlines are at a greatly increased risk of being affected by COVID-19 in the first place,” Glenda Gray, president and CEO of the SAMRC, said in a statement. “We are therefore encouraged to see that boosting with the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine regimen provides strong protection in a challenging real-world setting where there is an elevated risk of exposure – not just to COVID-19, but to the highly transmissible Omicron variant.”