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US judge blocks vaccine mandate for Head Start program

By Anna P. Kambhampaty


A federal judge in Louisiana has blocked for now the White House’s requirement that all workers in the Head Start early education program be vaccinated.


The preliminary injunction, issued Saturday by U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty, also halts a mask requirement for students aged 2 or older who are in close contact with other people or indoors.


The ruling was brought to Doughty by 24 states that sued Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra. Head Start is a federal program for young children from low-income families that offers early educational and child development support services.


In September, President Joe Biden released his “Path out of the Pandemic” six-part COVID action plan, which called for teachers and staff of Head Start and Early Head Start programs to be fully vaccinated against COVID by the end of January. Staff of schools operated by the Department of Defense and Bureau of Indian Education were also required to be vaccinated.


“These schools and programs collectively serve more than 1 million children each year and employ nearly 300,000 staff,” the president’s plan read.


Doughty cited a violation of separation of powers in his ruling.


“The issue in this case is not whether individuals should take the Covid-19 vaccine, but whether federal agencies can mandate individuals to take a vaccine or be fired,” he wrote. “If the executive branch is allowed to usurp the power of the legislative branch to make laws, then this country is no longer a democracy — it is a monarchy.”


It wasn’t clear if the White House would fight the injunction, but the Supreme Court has recently upheld vaccine mandates for New York health care workers, Indiana University and air travel.


In November, Doughty, who was nominated to the court in 2017 by then-President Donald Trump, also blocked Biden’s national vaccine mandate for health care workers. The Biden administration appealed that decision.


White House officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Many Republican lawmakers, including the attorneys general of Arizona and Alabama, praised the injunction.

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