COVID-19 Vaccines Requirements to End May 11 Along With PHE

By A.J. Plunkett

CMS is ending a requirement that all hospital providers and suppliers be vaccinated against COVID-19 as of the end of the public health emergency (PHE) on May 11, according to new guidance issued on May 1.

Vaccines are still strongly urged, however.

In addition, all emergency preparedness requirements, including the need for at least one annual full-scale exercise, will reinstated as of May 11, according to a new Quality, Safety & Oversight (QS) Group memo to CMS state agencies, “Guidance for the Expiration of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency,” QSO-23-13-All.

“On May 11, 2023, the COVID-19 public health emergency is expected to expire,” the memo states. Because of that and comments offered to the interim final rule mandating the vaccine, “CMS will soon end the requirement that covered providers and suppliers establish policies and procedures for staff vaccination. CMS will share more details regarding ending this requirement at the anticipated end of the public health emergency. We continue to remind everyone that the strongest protection from COVID-19 is the vaccine.”

In a section on emergency preparedness for all providers and suppliers, CMS notes that the May 1 memo supersedes a previous PHE-related exemptions on emergency preparedness.

“CMS regulations for Emergency Preparedness (EP) require the provider/supplier to conduct exercises to test their EP plan to ensure that it works and that staff are trained appropriately about their roles and the provider/supplier’s processes,” notes the May 1 memo.

Noting that CMS normally allows hospitals and other providers an exemption from the full exercise if they have an actual emergency in which they initiated their incident command protocols, “the exemption only applies to the next required full-scale exercise (not the exercise of choice), based on the 12-month exercise cycle,” as determined by the provider.

“Providers/suppliers are expected to return to normal operating status and comply with the regulatory requirements for emergency preparedness with the conclusion of the PHE. This includes conducting testing exercises based on the regulatory requirements for specific provider/supplier types as follows:

  • Inpatient Providers and Suppliers: The provider/supplier must conduct a full-scale exercise within its annual cycle for 2023 and an exercise of choice.
  • Outpatient Providers: The provider/supplier must conduct either a full-scale exercise or an exercise of choice within its annual cycle for 2023, if scheduled to conduct the fullscale exercise within 2023. The provider/supplier must conduct the exercise of choice, if scheduled during the annual cycle for 2023 and resume the full-scale exercise requirement in 2024.”

Inpatient providers and suppliers include:

  • Inpatient hospice facilities
  • Psychiatric residential treatment facilities (PRTFs)
  • Hospitals
  • Long-term care (LTCs) facilities
  • Intermediate care facilities for individuals with intellectual disabilities (ICFs/IIDs)
  • Critical access hospitals (CAHs)

Outpatient providers and suppliers include:

  • Ambulatory surgical centers (ASCS)
  • Freestanding/home-based hospice
  • Programs for the all-inclusive care for the elderly (PACE)
  • Home health agencies (HHAS)
  • Comprehensive outpatient rehabilitation facilities (CORFS)
  • Community mental health clinics (CMHCS)
  • Organ procurement organizations (OPOS)
  • Rural health clinics (RHCS)
  • Federally qualified health centers (FQHCS)
  • End-stage renal disease (ESRD) facilities

Also included in the list of outpatient providers and suppliers are “clinics, rehabilitation agencies, and public health agencies as providers of outpatient physical therapy and speech-language pathology services,” according to CMS.

The full 23-page memo also identifies other exemptions for hospitals and other provider types that are ending with the PHE. The guidance largely follows information that has been released since the end of the PHE was announced earlier this year.

In announcing the end of the vaccine requirement, a statement from the White House noted how far the COVID-19 battle has come.

“Since January 2021, COVID-19 deaths have declined by 95%, and hospitalizations are down nearly 91%. Globally, COVID-19 deaths are at their lowest levels since the start of the pandemic. 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,” said the statement.

For more on the end of the PHE, including information from DNV and The Joint Commission, go to this article in Inside Accreditation & Quality.