Mayor Adams ends COVID vaccine mandate for NYC workers
Mayor Adams announced Monday that he’s rolling back the city government’s longstanding coronavirus vaccine mandate — and opened the door to rehiring hundreds of municipal workers who got fired for refusing to comply with the public health rule.
The mandate, which has since November 2021 required all members of the municipal workforce to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, will officially end this Friday after the city Board of Health ratifies the move, Adams said in a statement. That means proof of vaccination will no longer be a condition of employment for current and prospective city workers, ending one of the city’s last COVID restrictions.
Adams said the major pandemic policy reversal is justified because 96% of the city’s more than 300,000 municipal workers are now fully vaccinated.
“This is the right moment for this decision,” Adams said. “I continue to urge every New Yorker to get vaccinated, get boosted, and take the necessary steps to protect themselves and those around them from COVID-19.”
Since the municipal mandate took effect, about 1,780 city workers have been terminated for flouting it, according to Adams’ office. Nearly half of the axed workers are believed to be Department of Education employees, and among them are also NYPD officers and FDNY firefighters.
While the unvaccinated ex-workers won’t automatically get their jobs back once the mandate ends, Adams’ office said they will be able to apply for their old positions “through existing city rules and regulations and hiring processes.”
In addition to rolling back the workforce rule, Adams said the city will no longer require proof of vaccination for visitors to public schools, including parents.
Adams received praise from Republicans for pulling the plug on the vaccine mandate, which was first implemented by former Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“This news will come as an incredible relief to thousands of city workers and their families, and the parents and guardians who have been barred from attending their children’s public school events,” the City Council’s six Republicans said in a statement co-signed by two moderate Democrats in the chamber, Kalman Yeger of Brooklyn and Robert Holden of Queens.
“There is more to be done for those workers who were unjustly fired for making personal medical choices, but this is a tremendous step toward righting the wrongs of the previous administration’s misguided pandemic policies.”
In September, Adams dropped the city’s private sector vaccine mandate, which was also first implemented by de Blasio, but barely enforced by the Adams administration.
At the time, opponents of the municipal mandate questioned why Adams would let private sector workers off the hook while keeping the requirement in place for the public sector. Leading up to Monday’s announcement, Republicans and public sector union officials lobbied Adams’ administration for months to repeal the municipal mandate.
The municipal rule was one of the city‘s last remaining COVID-19 restrictions, as Adams dumped vaccine and masking requirements for restaurants, stores, gyms and other establishments last year. He has consistently argued peeling back pandemic precautions is key to the city’s economic recovery.
Dr. Ashwin Vasan, Adams’ health commissioner, said Monday that the city’s various COVID vaccine mandates “saved lives and were absolutely necessary to meet the moment.”
“We’re grateful that we can now, as we leave the emergency phase of the pandemic, modify more of the rules that have gotten us to this point,” Vasan added.
But some public health experts questioned the notion that the city’s COVID “emergency” is in the rearview.
According to Health Department data, an average of 13 people still die from COVID-19 in New York City every day. Roughly 84 people are on average hospitalized with COVID-19 every day, and more than 1,600 new infections are detected every day, the data also show.
Meantime, vaccination rates have largely plateaued in the city. Just 14% of New York City residents have gotten booster shots, data shows.
“What I most fear is that the adult vaccination rate will now decline much more rapidly over time, increasing the number of New Yorkers infected, hospitalized and dying from COVID-19,” Dr. Jay Varma, an epidemiologist who served as de Blasio’s senior pandemic adviser in City Hall, said of Adams’ mandate rollback. “When the city removes its mandate, private sector employers and possibly higher education institutions will follow.”
“Absolutely, yes,” Varma added when asked if he believes Adams is wrong to end the mandate.
Council Speaker Adrienne Adams and Council Health Committee Chairwoman Lynn Schulman, both Democrats, stopped short of criticizing the mayor for scrapping the municipal mandate, but said the administration has “more work to do” when it comes to increasing booster vaccination rates.
“Only 14% have received a bivalent dose, which shows us that we have more work to do as a city to increase awareness and access to updated vaccine shots,” the speaker and Schulman said in a statement. “The path forward and the one that protected us was to listen to our public health professionals, and we encourage all New Yorkers to continue following that medical guidance: get fully vaccinated, receive a booster shot, wear a mask and get tested when appropriate.”
The municipal mandate has been the subject of litigation for months.
A State Island judge ruled in October that the city should reinstate — with back pay — a group of Sanitation Department workers who’d been fired for refusing to get their COVID shots in violation of the mandate.
In issuing the order, the judge, Ralph Porzio, cited Adams’ “arbitrary and capricious” decision to apply different rules for private and public sector workers.
“We are dealing with identical unvaccinated people being treated differently by the same administrative agency,” Porzio wrote in the ruling.
The administration is in the midst of appealing Porzio’s ruling. An Adams spokesman said the administration won’t withdraw that appeal or drop out of any other vaccine mandate-related litigation despite Monday’s announcement.
“The city will continue to pursue appeals in matters involving employees who were terminated and then won reinstatement to their positions, as there are important legal interests at stake,” the spokesman said. “The city must defend its ability to both impose a mandate and terminate non-compliant employees in the future.”
The Police Benevolent Association, the NYPD’s largest union, also successfully sued the administration over the mandate last year and secured a ruling similar to Porzio’s on behalf of some of its fired members.
In response to the imminent end of the municipal mandate, PBA President Patrick Lynch said Monday afternoon he believes “the job is only half done.”
“We call on the city to ensure that our members who were fired or had their employment unfairly impacted are reinstated, with back pay and without conditions,” Lynch said.