A New York State Department of Health board voted unanimously Thursday to implement emergency authorization of a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all health care workers in the state, while also removing a planned religious exemption as an alternative to vaccination.
Thursday’s meeting of the Public Health and Health Planning Council consisted of a discussion and subsequent formal adoption of a regulation first announced by then-Governor Andrew Cuomo.
The mandate approved by the council also removed a planned exemption that would have allowed workers to avoid vaccination based on religious considerations. Any religious exemptions previously granted are no longer valid and facilities will not be allowed to include religious exemptions at all.
State Department of Health attorney Vanessa Murphy said, “We’re not constitutionally required to provide a religious exemption. You see that with the Measles and the Mumps requirement for health care workers.”
Hospitals and nursing homes must require their employees to be fully-vaccinated against COVID-19, with the first dose for current personnel received by September 27th.
All other health-care facilities covered in the provision — including diagnostic and treatment centers, home health agencies, long-term home health care programs, school-based clinics and hospice care programs — must have personnel vaccinated by October 7th.
Under the state’s rule-making process, the emergency regulation took effect immediately and will be subject to a 90-day review period. After the review, DOH will have to renew it or allow it to expire.
The definition of “personnel” is broad in the regulation: It includes employees, members of the medical and nursing staff, contract staff, students and volunteers, “who engage in activities such that if they were infected with COVID-19, they could potentially expose other covered personnel, patients or residents to the disease.”
As of August 16th, 75% of the state’s estimated 450,000 hospital workers, 74% of the state’s estimated 30,000 adult care facility workers, and 68% of the state’s estimated 145,500 nursing home workers have completed their vaccine series, according to a statement from the governor’s office.
DOH leaders had vague answers to questions regarding enforcement and punishment for non-compliance. Administrators of hospitals, diagnostic centers, home care agencies, etc. will be responsible for ensuring their personnel are vaccinated.
Alternatives, like masking and weekly surveillance testing for individuals who have not received a COVID-19 shot, were not discussed in the meeting.