Judge rejects challenge to NM vaccine mandate - Albuquerque Journal

Judge rejects challenge to NM vaccine mandate

People hold signs at San Mateo and Montgomery NE during a protest against vaccine mandates on September 13. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – A federal judge has rejected a court challenge aimed at halting New Mexico COVID-19 vaccine requirements imposed last month by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration.

In a ruling this week, U.S. District Judge Martha Vázquez cited other court rulings that upheld the legality of vaccine mandates – including a 1905 case dealing with the smallpox vaccine – and said the New Mexico requirements do not violate constitutional rights.

“In short, by failing to accommodate plaintiffs’ (or their doctors’) views on the COVID-19 vaccines, the public health order does not lack a rational relationship to a legitimate government purpose,” Vázquez wrote in her ruling that denied a request for the vaccine mandate to be lifted.

However, the attorney for the two women who filed the court petition said Thursday he had already appealed the judge’s ruling to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Albuquerque attorney Blair Dunn also said the case, or a similar case filed in another state, could ultimately end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

“That’s the path this case is on,” Dunn told the Journal.

New Mexico’s vaccine-related public health order was issued Aug. 17 and revised this week. It requires a COVID-19 vaccination for people working in such “high-risk” settings as hospitals, nursing homes, hospice facilities and prisons.

The mandate applies to doctors, nurses, pharmacists and others, but allows for exemptions on medical and religious grounds. Employees who refuse to be vaccinated face the possibility of losing their jobs.

One of the two plaintiffs in the New Mexico lawsuit is Jennifer Blackford, a Bernalillo County resident who works as a nurse at Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque.

Presbyterian Healthcare Services, which runs the hospital and eight others around the state, announced shortly after the state’s vaccine mandate was unveiled that it would require COVID-19 vaccinations for its entire workforce – totaling more than 13,000 people – with a first dose required by Aug. 27.

Blackford is currently on leave without pay due to her refusal to comply with the mandates, Dunn said.

The other plaintiff is Talisha Valdez, a Union County resident who is the mother of two children who entered to show their animals at the New Mexico State Fair.

People hold signs during a protest against vaccine mandates on September 13. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

While the public health order issued by the Lujan Grisham administration requires that anyone who is eligible must provide proof of vaccination before entering the fairgrounds, this year’s junior livestock shows and sales were ultimately canceled.

Statewide, 79.1% of New Mexicans age 18 and older – nearly 1.3 million people – had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as of Thursday, while 69.3% of adults had gotten all shots necessary to be fully vaccinated, according to state Department of Health data.

The state’s vaccine requirements have prompted protests in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Roswell, but have also drawn support from several health care organizations.

Since New Mexico imposed its vaccine mandates, President Joe Biden has also announced a similar requirement for federal workers, health care providers that get federal funding and workers at businesses with more than 100 employees.

Meanwhile, the judge’s order denying the attempt to make New Mexico’s vaccine mandate unenforceable marks the latest legal victory for Lujan Grisham.

Other pandemic-related lawsuits filed against the Democratic governor targeted a temporary ban on indoor restaurant dining, the state’s refusal to greatly reduce prison populations, and business losses caused by mandatory closures and capacity restrictions.


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