SHERIDAN — As state and local politicians spoke against sweeping new federal vaccine requirements for as many as 100 million Americans announced last week, Mike McCafferty watched and waited.
McCafferty is the CEO of Sheridan Memorial Hospital, one of Sheridan County’s largest employers with roughly 800 full-time and part-time employees. While new federal rules needing ironed out, it looks like the hospital could lose access to federal Medicare and Medicaid funding unless all 800 of those employees comply with the COVID-19 vaccine requirements.
“That’s a big deal for us,” McCafferty said. “We’re going to watch that whole situation and see what the new rules look like. We’ll start to put together a plan from there. It’s too early to do anything just yet.”
While McCafferty and other local business owners have to wait and see just what the new requirements mean for them, local politicians have wasted no time speaking out against the mass vaccination mandate from President Joseph Biden.
The expansive rules mandate all employers with more than 100 workers to require them to be vaccinated or test for the virus weekly, affecting about 80 million Americans. And the roughly 17 million workers at health facilities that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid also will have to be fully vaccinated.
“This is not about freedom or personal choice,” Biden said in a speech from the White House Sept. 9. “It’s about protecting yourself and those around you. The people you work with. The people you care about, the people you love. My job as president is to protect all Americans.”
Congresswoman Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, in a conference call Sept. 10, told The Sheridan Press she agreed with the president’s desire to increase vaccinations. She spoke of the importance of vaccinations several times during the call, and when asked what her message was to unvaccinated Wyoming residents, she said “I strongly encourage people to receive the vaccine.”
Still, Cheney said she was disturbed by the way Biden had imposed the vaccinations on thousands of Wyoming residents.
“The president being able to impose this mandate on tens of millions around the country sets a very dangerous precedent,” Cheney said. “I will continue to work with the governor’s office and colleagues in Congress to encourage vaccinations but also to work against a mandate with dangerous precedents.”
In a statement released shortly after Biden’s speech, Gov. Mark Gordon described the mandate as “an egregious example of big government overreach.”
“I have asked the attorney general to stand prepared to take all actions to oppose this administration’s unconstitutional overreach of executive power,” Gordon said. “It has no place in America. Not now and not ever.”
The Wyoming Legislature’s majority leadership including Senate President Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, and Speaker of the House Rep. Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, said they stood in strong support of Gordon’s stance against a federal vaccination mandate.
“We believe the Biden Administration’s federal vaccine requirement is arbitrary and likely unconstitutional,” the leadership said. “The governor and the attorney general are provided the tools through Wyoming Statute 9-14-102 to take legal action to prevent the enforcement of overreaching Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations such as the proposed vaccine mandate. We are confident they will use that authority to good effect to protect the rights of Wyoming citizens.”
The federal mandate comes as just more than half of the nation’s population — 54% — is vaccinated. Wyoming has the lowest vaccinated population of any state at 39.8%, according to nonprofit organization Our World in Data. In Sheridan County, 38.18% of the population is vaccinated, according to the Wyoming Department of Health.
McCafferty said the hospital recommended the vaccinations prior to the mandate and will continue to do so. Cheney agreed.
“We need to have as many people vaccinated as possible,” Cheney said. “It helps keep people alive and keeps our economy alive as well.”
Vaccinations are currently offered for free at Walgreens, Walmart, Osco Pharmacy and Sheridan County Public Health.