Healthcare workers in New York are part of the latest workforce to see a vaccine mandate as part of a push from officials who hope to curb the spread of the highly contagious delta variant.
The mandate comes on the same day state health officials authorized a third dose of the vaccine for New Yorkers with compromised immune systems. The authorization follows guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued late last week.
New Yorkers eligible for the third shot must wait 28 days after receiving their second dose (a third dose if only authorized for Moderna and Pfizer) and is effective immediately, the governor said.
On Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced all healthcare workers in New York must get at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by Monday, Sept. 27.
The new mandate from the state's Department of Health includes staff at hospitals, long-term care facilities, nursing homes, adult care and other congregate care settings, and applies to public and private employees.
Limited exceptions will be offered for religious or medical reasons.
"Our healthcare heroes led the battle against the virus, and now we need them to lead the battle between the variant and the vaccine," Cuomo said in a statement. "We have always followed the science, and we're doing so again today, with these recommendations by Dr. Zucker and federal and state health experts. But we need to do more."
Kathy Hochul, who is expected to take the helm in a week's time, was briefed on the announcement, Cuomo said.
The mandate to vaccinate the state's healthcare workforce adds thousands to a growing population of New Yorkers required to get inoculated for work. Previous announcements from the governor mandated shots for state employees and anyone working for the MTA and Port Authority in New York. Both groups have a Labor Day deadline.
According to the governor, nearly 70% of the state's nursing home workers have completed their vaccine series. That percentage is slightly higher in other settings: 75% in hospitals and 74% in adult care facilities.
"This mandate will both help close the vaccination gap and reduce the spread of the Delta variant. I want to thank all New York State's healthcare workers for stepping up once again and showing our state that getting vaccinated is safe, easy, and most importantly, effective," Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said in the governor's announcement.
The Greater New York Hospital Association, a statewide advocacy group, called workers' vaccination rates “impressive,” while endorsing the new requirement. There was no immediate comment from SEIU 1199, a major health care workers' union, or the New York State Nurses Association, which represents 42,000 nurses.
Over the weekend, Zucker said the state's vaccine task force was undergoing a review of the CDC's third dose guidance and would be releasing its recommendation shortly. That authorization came Monday with a recommendation that New Yorkers speak with their healthcare provider about getting a third shot.
New York says current guidance allows a third dose of the vaccine for people who have:
- Been receiving active cancer treatment for tumors or cancers of the blood;
- Received an organ transplant and are taking medications to suppress the immune system;
- Received a stem cell transplant within the last 2 years or are taking medicine to suppress the immune system;
- Moderate or severe primary immunodeficiency (such as DiGeorge syndrome, Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome);
- Advanced or untreated HIV infection;
- Active treatment with high-dose corticosteroids, cancer chemotherapy that causes severe immunosuppression, or other medications that may suppress your immune response.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in New York has risen over the past two weeks from over 2,400 new cases per day to nearly 4,200, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
The requirement for healthcare workers comes as U.S. experts are expected to recommend COVID-19 vaccine boosters for all Americans, regardless of age, eight months after they received their second dose of the shot, to ensure lasting protection against the coronavirus as the delta variant spreads across the country.