The Biden administration announced on Monday that COVID-19 vaccine requirements in place for federal employees and contractors will come to an end on May 11.
For home-based care providers working under Medicare and Medicaid, this is seemingly the end of COVID-19 vaccine mandates for staff.
The Biden administration citied a 95% decline in COVID-19 deaths, and an almost 91% decline in hospitalizations as part of the reasoning behind the move.
“Globally, COVID-19 deaths are at their lowest levels since the start of the pandemic,” the White House said in a statement. “Following a whole-of-government effort that led to a record number of nearly 270 million Americans receiving at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine, we are in a different phase of our response to COVID-19 than we were when many of these requirements were put into place.”
In addition to the White House statement, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released a memo stating that, in line with the upcoming expiration of the public health emergency, it would soon end vaccine requirements for providers and suppliers.
“CMS will share more details regarding ending this requirement at the anticipated end of the public health emergency,” the agency wrote in the memo. “We continue to remind everyone that the strongest protection from COVID-19 is the vaccine. Therefore, CMS urges everyone to stay up to date with your COVID-19 vaccine.”
CMS originally released COVID-19 vaccination mandate guidance for health care workers back in December 2021.
Katie Wehri — director of home care and hospice regulatory affairs at the National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC) — suspects that providers will receive word from CMS a few days after the public health emergency officially ends.
On its end, NAHC believes that the news was unexpected.
“We were surprised to see this because we did not have an indication, previously, that this was going to be happening,” Wehri told Home Health Care News. “But what we are pleased to see is that COVID cases have slowed down enough that this is safe now, to move forward without the vaccinations.”
That said, NAHC believes all providers should still encourage their employees to receive vaccinations and consider infection control and prevention in their overall plans.
“Even though this particular requirement may go away, home health and hospice organizations are still going to have to pay attention to what’s happening in their area with COVID,” Wehri said. “They still have to implement basic infection control and prevention techniques. That probably would include some screenings. They’re going to need to look at that at the local level.”
While it’s too soon to determine what the overall impact will be for home-based care providers, it’s not unlikely that this could be business as usual for some, according to Wehri.
“I think some providers probably won’t have much change in their organization, especially if they’re part of large health care organizations,” she said. “They may decide that they want to see this continue. For others, it may be that they don’t have to require staff to have the vaccination, but they would still be looking at screening for COVID-19, similar to screening for other infections.”
It’s also too soon to determine what the reaction will be on the state level, according to Wehri.
Last year, 22 states pushed for CMS to lift the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers operating under Medicare and Medicaid.