New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said the state will expand its COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers to include booster shots, becoming the first state to require boosters for health care employees while also signaling that a growing number of institutions are increasingly aiming to mandate them.
Hochul, a Democrat, said in a Friday news briefing that state health care workers are required to get the extra shots. The state will accept only medical—not religious—exemptions, consistent with previous mandates on COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 vaccines.
Under the mandate, health care workers will have to get boosters within two weeks of their eligibility. Recently, the Food and Drug Administration recommended shortening the time an individual needs to wait before getting a Pfizer or Moderna booster by one month. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention signed off on the FDA’s Pfizer recommendation earlier this week.
“They work [with our] most vulnerable New Yorkers. We need to make sure that our health care workers are now booster … not just vaccinated, but they have to be boosted,” Hochul said during the briefing. Hochul said that New York is the first state in the country to mandate boosters for health care workers.
Hochul says New York Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett will recommend the booster mandate to the Public Health and Health Planning Council on Tuesday, Jan. 11, for final approval, although both Hochul and Bassett said they both expect the Council to sign off on it.
“This has been such an important priority,” Hochul said. “We’ve already seen what’s been happening in our health care environments. Staff is getting sick, they’re leaving. We need them to get well, we need them to have the best fortification they possibly can, and that means getting a booster shot as well.”
The vaccine mandate for health care staff has been challenged several times in court, with one making it all the way to the Supreme Court. In December, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in refusing to halt the vaccine mandate, with Justices Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito dissenting.
Other than New York, Maine and Rhode Island are states that do not accommodate religious exemptions for health care workers who object to getting the shot.
“Today, the Court repeats the mistake by turning away New York’s doctors and nurses,” Gorsuch wrote in his dissent on a Maine vaccine case. “We do all this even though the State’s executive decree clearly interferes with the free exercise of religion—and does so seemingly based on nothing more than fear and anger at those who harbor unpopular religious beliefs.”
In recent weeks, businesses and schools have begun to require booster doses as a requirement for employment or enrollment. As an example, Danny Meyer, the CEO of the Union Square Hospitality Group, told outlets last month that his businesses would require boosters for employees.