This commentary was update on September 3, 2021.
As the state and the nation attempt to cope with the Delta variant of COVID-19, New York lawmakers—like the rest of us—hold widely divergent perspectives on how government might best combat the pandemic. Some lawmakers believe that the risks and dangers of COVID-19 justify a mandate-oriented approach in which government directs New Yorkers to take certain actions (such as getting a vaccine or wearing a mask) or to refrain from taking certain actions (such as participating in large gatherings). Other lawmakers advocate a hands-off approach in which state government leaves businesses, churches, schools, and individuals free to decide how best to combat the pandemic in their specific circumstances. Still others may advocate a hybrid approach in which government offers health guidance, imposes mandates only in extreme circumstances, and provides exemptions from those mandates for persons with sincerely-held religious objections.
The differing views held by lawmakers concerning COVID-19 are reflected in a few pending bills. The first bill, Bill The differing views held by lawmakers concerning COVID-19 are reflected in a few pending bills. Bill S.7320-Hoylman, would allow pharmacists to administer COVID-19 vaccines to children ages two and up pursuant to a non-patient-specific prescription once such vaccines are approved by the U.S. Food and DrugAdministration (FDA). The Daily News reports that the Senator wants to go even further, though. It says, “The Manhattan Democrat introduced [another] bill Tuesday that would require kids be immunized against coronavirus in order to attend school in New York once the shots receive full federal approval.” A third bill, Bill S.7268-Borrello, takes a hands-off approach. Section One of Bill S.7268-Borrello reads as follows: “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, regulation or executive order to the contrary, no state or local government entity, or its political subdivisions, agents, or assigns, shall be permitted to require any individual to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.”
A hands-off approach by state government is the correct approach when it comes to vaccination against COVID-19. While New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms does not oppose vaccines in general or COVID-19 vaccines in particular, we believe that New Yorkers should be free to decide for ourselves whether to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. Some New Yorkers have religious objections to vaccination. Others may not object to all vaccinations, but may have religious objections to some or all of the available COVID-19 vaccines. Other New Yorkers may be concerned about receiving a vaccine that is very new, given that it is not possible to know for certain what the long-term effects of that vaccine might be. On the other hand, others might believe that the dangers of contracting COVID-19 outweigh these potential risks. A hands-off approach by government allows New Yorkers to weigh the various risks and advantages of being vaccinated against COVID-19 and to make an informed decision. This approach gives the same freedom to churches, businesses, employers, and schools, who remain free to implement their own requirements regarding vaccinations, masks, social distancing, and similar questions.