If you thought the great mask divide of 2020 was contentious, get ready for the vaccine mandate debate of 2021. A New York state lawmaker has introduced a bill that, if passed and signed into law, could lead to a COVID-19 vaccination mandate.
The bill, A.11179, was introduced at the request of Asm. Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan). In summary, the bill would add a new section to the Public Health Law that permits the state to implement a COVID-19 vaccine mandate if public health officials determine that not enough of the public is receiving a Coronavirus vaccine to establish herd immunity, generally believed to be at least 70 percent of the population. Ms. Rosenthal believes that number would need to be higher, somewhere between 75-80 percent.
The New York State Bar Association, representing the state’s legal profession, last month called on the Empire State to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for citizens, with some limitations.
Jason McGuire, executive director of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, said the organization he represents is not principally opposed to vaccination, but intends to oppose any Coronavirus vaccine mandates. “We’re grateful that for those pro-life New Yorkers who choose to receive ethical vaccinations, there are alternatives in both the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 immunizations coming to New York this month. We only wish the same could be said for the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccinations, continued McGuire. “However, we believe that ultimately this is a decision that should be made between a patient and her doctor. Certainly, Asm. Rosenthal would understand the premise of ‘her body, her choice,’” concluded McGuire.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll, conducted December 2-8, 2020, shows that 35 percent of women are choosing to take a pass on receiving the vaccine. Causing more concern for public health officials is the fact that mothers make about 80 percent of health care decisions for their children and are more likely to be the caregivers when a child falls ill, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. In other words, if momma doesn’t want the vaccine, it’s highly unlikely that dad and the kids will receive it.
Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay (R-Pulaski) was diagnosed with COVID-19 in November, but still expressed concerns with the Rosenthal bill. “I think it’s a little premature to be talking about it,” he emphasized. “First of all, we don’t even have the vaccines in New York yet. I certainly plan on taking it, and I would encourage everybody else to get vaccinated. But the knee jerk reaction of some of my colleagues in the Legislature is to immediately take away civil liberties.”
Barclay isn’t alone. Senator Pat Gallivan (R-Elma) told WBEN, “I’m not okay with government mandating that something is injected into the body of one of its citizens.”
The Conservative Party of New York State has also joined the opposition effort. In a memo issued to members of the Legislature last week, the party states, “There is no doubt that a vaccine will be useful in stemming the spread of this dangerous and deadly virus, and those who want to or need to have it, should be able to access the various COVID-19 vaccines that will be available. However, government must not make the mistake that a new, albeit FDA approved, vaccine should be mandated.”
And the opposition is bipartisan. “I don’t think it’s a good idea,” said Asm. Pat Burke (D-Buffalo). “I think it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to mandate something like this—there’s no way to enforce it.” Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D-Buffalo) also indicated that she is not inclined to support the bill.
WGRZ asked Asm. Rosenthal about concerns from those who believe the state should not be mandating individuals to get a vaccine. Rosenthal replied, “This is a matter that will be decided based on science and best practices and not on people’s blow back. That’s why the power resides with the state department of health.”
McGuire characterized Rosenthal’s position as, “New Yorkers have a choice in the matter, until Ms. Rosenthal disagrees with their decision. Then, Manhattan-sensibilities supercede many moms across the state.”
In a related matter, Asm. John Salka (R-Brookfield) has introduced legislation that preserves the individual’s right to choose whether or not to receive a COVID vaccination, while prohibiting a mandate. When it comes to minors or incapacitated adults, parents and guardians, respectively, would be permitted to decide if those in their charge receive the vaccination. The Salka bill, A11172, is presently co-sponsored by eleven Republican Members of Assembly: Ra, DeStefano, Tague, Miller (Melissa), Brabenec, Montesano, Goodell, Lalor, Manktelow, Smullen and McDonough.
Both the Rosenthal and Salka bills have been assigned to the Assembly Health Committee. Neither has same-as legislation in the State Senate.