Federal judge refuses to block vaccine mandate at Savannah River Site

·2 min read

Dec. 6—A federal judge on Friday chose not to block a COVID-19 vaccine requirement enacted by Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, weeks after employees asked the court to intervene and invalidate the measure.

U.S. District Judge J. Michelle Childs denied a sought-after preliminary injunction and restraining order, explaining in a 39-page document why the plaintiffs failed to convince her to take "extraordinary" action.

Childs was not persuaded that the vaccine rules imposed by the top contractor at the Savannah River Site were tantamount to the unlawful practice of medicine in South Carolina — a pillar of the plaintiffs' argument — and emphasized no one was being forcibly vaccinated.

SRNS employees who chose not to get the jabs and whose exemptions were rejected faced resignation, retirement, unpaid leave or termination. While job loss is troubling, some Savannah River Site workers have told the Aiken Standard, the real concern is the loss of liberty or bodily autonomy.

Donald Brown Jr., the attorney representing the dozens of Savannah River Nuclear Solutions workers who brought suit, on Monday said he was "disappointed" with Childs's inaction.

"We will regroup and see what the next steps will be," Brown said in an interview. The attorney stressed the case is a matter of life and death and further called on the Aiken Standard "to print the hard facts."

Childs's decision to let things play out comes days after she heard arguments in Columbia. While she did not issue a ruling at the time, she allowed the employees to again update their complaint, which was initially filed in state court.

The lawsuit had not been dismissed as of Monday afternoon.

Childs is scheduled to hear arguments in another COVID-19 vaccination lawsuit — involving the Savannah River Site paramilitary security team, Centerra Group — Dec. 13. Her Friday order offers a glimpse at questions, and hurdles, that await.

Savannah River Nuclear Solutions rolled out its vaccine mandate in early September, before President Biden ordered those in the private sector be vaccinated or face regular testing.

In a memo to the workforce, SRNS President and CEO Stuart MacVean said the decision to make vaccination a condition of employment came after "much discussion" with leadership site-wide. A Savannah River Nuclear Solutions spokesperson on Monday said the team was "pleased with the outcome of the hearing" and maintains its position that "actions taken by SRNS to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for all employees were done solely to protect the health and safety of the workforce."

Brown on Monday alleged the COVID-19 vaccines are dangerous, even though serious complications are rare, and long-term side effects are extremely unlikely, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Savannah River Nuclear Solutions employs some 5,500 people.

The contractor manages the Savannah River Site day to day and is in charge of several national security missions, including the packaging of tritium, a radioactive and perishable gas used in U.S. nuclear weapons.

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