New York officials are rescinding a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers that led to thousands being fired.
Lawyers for the state announced the sudden move during a hearing on May 24 in a case brought by doctors who faced termination for not getting vaccinated.
“Due to the changing landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic and evolving vaccine recommendations, the New York State Department of Health has begun the process of repealing the COVID-19 vaccine requirement for workers at regulated health care facilities,” the state health department stated.
“This is a big win,” Sujata Gibson, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs in the case, told The Epoch Times in an email. “I cannot underscore enough how significant this is, not only for the 34,000 doctors, nurses, and other health care workers who have been unable to work in this state since 2021, but also for the millions of New Yorkers who have been impacted by the dangerous and crippling staffing crisis that resulted from their forced exodus from the field.”
Some 34,000 workers lost or left their jobs over the mandate, which was imposed in 2021. That reduced the health care workforce in the state by 3.5 percent.
Nurses and others had warned that the mandate would contribute to staffing shortages that were already plaguing some facilities.
No new punitive actions will be undertaken as the mandate’s repeal is being considered by the Public Health and Health Planning Council, the department stated in a letter to providers. But sanctions over previously cited violations may still be sought.
Plaintiffs in the state case said officials violated the New York Constitution when they made the mandate permanent in 2022, bypassing the Legislature. Mary Bassett, the health commissioner at the time, also ignored data that showed that vaccinated people could be infected with and transmit COVID-19, the petition stated.
State officials during the pandemic claimed that the mandate would help to fight the spread of COVID-19 and protect staff members and patients. They also said they followed the law in promulgating the mandate.
New York Supreme Court Judge Gerard Neri sided with the plaintiffs in January, ruling that the government was “clearly prohibited from mandating any vaccination outside of those specifically authorized by the legislature” and that the Department of Health “blatantly violated the boundaries of its authority” in issuing the mandate despite the fact that the vaccines do not prevent transmission.
The ruling barred enforcement of the mandate but was stayed after New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s administration filed an appeal.
Plaintiffs had expected state lawyers to argue in court for the January ruling to be overturned. They were surprised when lawyers first announced that the mandate would be dropped.
“The State Health Department has just informed me that they intend to repeal the regulation that is being challenged here,” Jonathan Hitsous, one of the lawyers, told the court.
“Because there’s no longer a regulation to enforce, we argue that this case has now gone moot,” he added.
Hitsous then urged the court to still overturn Neri’s ruling, claiming that if left in place, it would cast doubt on the regulation and other immunization requirements.
“It’s taken years of litigation to get here, and if they can keep doing this every time there’s a new flu vaccine mandate they want to pass or if they want to put in another COVID vaccine mandate, or if they want to do the next pandemic, the next vaccine, this will happen again, and these people … their lives have been ruined,” she said. “They have lost everything, and we just want to prevent that from happening again.”
The court adjourned without issuing a ruling.
“Our fight is not over. In a blatant show of gamesmanship, the state had the gall to ask the Court not only to drop the appeal, but to also vacate … the decision below, without reviewing it on the merits,” Gibson told The Epoch Times.
“Courts cannot allow defendants to get out of legal consequences of a final ruling by simply stopping the unlawful conduct mid-appeal. New Yorkers must be able to use the lower court’s ruling as precedent so that this never happens again.”
The New York State Department of Health and Hochul’s office didn’t respond by press time to requests by The Epoch Times for comment.
Under state rules, the Public Health and Health Planning Council must vote to repeal certain regulations. The body is composed of Dr. James McDonald, the acting commissioner of health, and a number of other doctors and health officials. It isn’t clear yet when the council will take up the matter.
Individual providers, meanwhile, should “individually consider how to implement their own internal policies regarding COVID-19 vaccination while remaining in compliance with applicable state and federal laws,” Dr. Eugene Heslin, a state health official, said in the letter to providers.