Several Sectors Subject To COVID Vaccine Mandates

In recent days, a wide variety of new COVID-19 vaccine mandates have been put into place that affect unvaccinated New Yorkers in their professional and family lives.

On Thursday, August 26, a board of the New York State Department of Health voted unanimously to approve a statewide vaccination mandate for health care workers. The emergency regulation containing the mandate, which went into effect immediately, directs hospitals and nursing homes to require their staff to be vaccinated; staff must receive initial doses by September 27. Other health care facilities (for example, home health agencies and hospice care programs) are subject to the same mandate, and personnel must receive initial doses by October 7. Some health care facilities have expressed concern that the mandate could lead to staffing shortages and that the vaccination timetables called for by the state may be unrealistic. The mandate does include a medical exemption; significantly, however, a proposed religious exemption was not included, and health care workers who decline to be vaccinated could lose their jobs. The lack of a religious exemption from the vaccine mandate may violate Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Vaccination mandates also affect state employees. Back in July, then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed all state employees to be vaccinated by Labor Day or to undergo weekly COVID-19 testing thereafter. This mandate affects court personnel and transit personnel, among others.

On August 23, 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently gave full approval to Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for persons aged 16 and up. (The Pfizer vaccine had previously been approved on an emergency basis.) The full approval of the Pfizer vaccine triggered a vaccine mandate for students at all 64 colleges and universities within the State of New York (SUNY) system. Such students must be fully vaccinated no later than September 27, 2021. Medical and religious exemptions are available. Also, masks will be required in indoor settings at SUNY schools throughout the fall semester.

New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms has covered recent developments affecting New York’s primary and secondary schools in a separate commentary. However, it should be noted that New York City has implemented school vaccination mandates of its own. On August 23, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that all public school personnel will be required to be vaccinated. (The Mayor had previously directed all City personnel to be vaccinated or to undergo regular testing.) Public school personnel have until September 27 to receive their first doses of the vaccine. Furthermore, New York City is requiring that some public school student-athletes be vaccinated in order to participate in interscholastic sports.

New York City’s vaccination mandate for employees and customers at entertainment venues, indoor restaurants, and gyms is being challenged in multiple lawsuits.

For more information on religious exemptions to COVID-19 vaccination mandates, please click here to view a helpful informational resource from our friends at Alliance Defending Freedom.