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Appalachia Health News tells the story of our health challenges and how we overcome them throughout the region. 

Manchin Joins Justice’s Vaccine Exemption Request

Manchin

Gov. Jim Justice asked the federal government last month to relax its COVID-19 vaccine requirement for rural healthcare workers.

In a letter co-signed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia, Justice asked the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) to exempt rural hospitals from a federal mandate that says all healthcare workers must be vaccinated. Justice claims the mandate could worsen staffing shortages at hospitals.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin heard the governor's plea and went to CMS himself. He said he spoke with the agency’s administrator who promised him some leniency.

“Administrator Brooks-LaSure told me that the goal of CMS is to help hospitals get their staff vaccinated, not kick them out of the Medicare program,” Manchin said in a statement. “She assured me that facilities will not be kicked out of the Medicare program if their entire staff isn’t fully vaccinated as long as facilities are making a good faith effort to vaccinate staff and implement best safety practices. According to the West Virginia Rural Health Association, our rural hospitals generally have a 92-93 percent vaccination rate.”

CMS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The governor’s office has not received an update from CMS, but Justice did react to Manchin’s statement Friday at his regular press conference.

“My read is saying, ‘Now look. We're not gonna kick anybody out of the Medicare programs. We're not gonna do that to any of the hospitals,” Justice said. “What we really want you to do is just try real hard. If you just try real hard and tell us you're trying real hard, we will leave you alone.

The West Virginia Hospital Association has said that the vaccine mandate should not impact staffing, and that hospitals will comply with federal standards. Many hospitals began requiring the vaccine last fall, while allowing for religious or medical exemptions.

The mandate takes effect March 15.

Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting with support from Charleston Area Medical Center and Marshall Health.

Appalachia Health News Reporter, jleffler@wvpublic.org, 502-377-0438, @june_leffler

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