Rally by people who are against mandatory vaccines
Protesters gathered along the freeway in the town of Wallkill, Orange County to protest against mandatory COVID vaccinations
Kelly Marsh / for the Times Herald Record
A New York State Department of Health Board unanimously voted Thursday to implement emergency approval of a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all health care workers in the state while lifting a proposed religious exemption as an alternative to vaccination.
Thursday session of the Public Health and Health Planning Council initially consisted of a discussion and subsequent formal adoption of a regulation announced by the then government. Andrew Cuomo last week.
The mandate approved by the Council also lifted a proposed exemption that would have allowed workers to avoid vaccinations on religious grounds. Any previously granted religious exemptions are no longer valid and facilities are not allowed to include religious exemptions at all, said Vanessa Murphy, a DOH attorney.
“We are constitutionally not required to provide a religious exemption,” Murphy said. “You see that with the measles and mumps requirement for health workers.”
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Hospitals and nursing homes must require their staff to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with the first dose for current staff being received by September 27th.
All other health care facilities covered by the regulation – including diagnostic and treatment centers, home health authorities, long-term home health care programs, school-based clinics, and hospice care programs – must be vaccinated through staff by October 7th.
As part of the state rulemaking process, the Emergency Ordinance came into force with immediate effect and is subject to a 90-day review period. Once verified, DOH will need to renew it or let it expire.
The term “staff” is broadly defined in the ordinance: it includes employees, members of the medical and nursing staff, contract employees, students and volunteers who “work in such a way that they potentially have other insured employees in the event of an infection with COVID-19, Exposing the patient or resident to the disease. “
By August 16, 75% of the estimated 450,000 hospital workers in the state, 74% of the estimated 30,000 adult care facility workers, and 68% of the estimated 145,500 care home workers in the state have completed their vaccination series. according to a statement from the governor’s office.
What was discussed during the DOH meeting?
At the start of the meeting, State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker reached out to members in attendance and praised the new Governor, Kathy Hochul, for her help in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was Zucker’s first public comments since Cuomo’s resignation on Monday amid countless scandals, including the controversy over the state’s handling of COVID-19 data regarding nursing homes, that caught the attention of the Brooklyn federal prosecutor.
On Wednesday, Hochul’s office included the CDC’s COVID-19 death count for New York in its daily data letter for reasons of transparency. The CDC’s death toll is broader than the state’s, attributing approximately 12,000 deaths that the state omits.
“I’m thrilled that Governor Kathy Hochul has taken over the helm in the state,” said Zucker. “Your leadership in allowing me and the entire DOH to pull the data out is refreshing and, as she said, her commitment to transparency is invigorating.”
How is the mandate enforced?
Much of the meeting was spent answering questions from Board members regarding the scope of the professions and roles covered by the vaccine mandate.
Harvey Lawrence, a committee member and president and CEO of BMS Family Health and Wellness Centers in Brooklyn, expressed concern about the universal implementation across the state.
“Really, across the board, anyone who has a point of contact with a patient – including a nurse, PAs, NPs – when practicing in a private setting or an institutional setting should obey this ordinance,” said Lawrence. “I am not entirely clear how that should be enforced.”
Lawrence asked for clarity on the execution of the mandate, and expressed concern that health care facilities could experience “brain drain” if there were opportunities for people to work elsewhere who would not need the vaccine.
“This is a mandate,” said Lawrence. “What are the penalties and what are the enforcement requirements?”
DOH leaders had vague answers to questions about enforcement and punishment for non-compliance. The administrators of hospitals, diagnostic centers, home care facilities, etc. will be responsible for ensuring that their staff are vaccinated, Murphy said.
“I think this is at the facility level for compliance and enforcement. We have implemented provisions that require affected facilities to report information to us when we request it,” said Murphy. “I don’t know if we’ve worked out the details of how we would check or ensure compliance.”
Alternatives such as masking and weekly surveillance tests for people who did not receive a COVID-19 vaccination were not discussed at the meeting.
Al Cardillo, CEO of the Home Care Association of New York State, spoke during the public comment period of the meeting. He expressed concern that a mandate would exacerbate a pre-existing labor shortage that is detrimental to dependent patients in their homes.
“It’s a long-standing, decades-long problem within the state because the demand has always exceeded capacity,” Cardillo said. “There are many vendors who still have a significant portion of the workforce who are reluctant to vaccinate. Much of our workforce comes from minority and other cultural communities where there is resistance to vaccination.”
He asked the state DOH to consider helping the administrators implement the vaccine mandate. Flexibility, particularly with regard to the deadline for the request, would be greatly appreciated, he said.
“We really encourage you to consider the shortage in the emergency situation we have and consider steps that would at least support this area to recruit and support workers during this time,” Cardillo said. “We ask that you consider a reasonable and workable timeframe for implementing these provisions. I think if we work together we can probably get there very harmoniously.”