Vaccination critical to COVID battle

Kevin P. Coughlin / Office of the Governor Gov. Kathy Hochul delivers a speech and answers questions from media after her ceremonial swearing in on Aug. 24 in Albany. Less than a month in office, the new governor faces a major challenge in the COVID fight.

A federal court Tuesday granted a temporary restraining order against Gov. Kathy Hochul’s vaccine mandate for the state’s health care workers. There it is: Less than a month in office, the new governor faces a major challenge.

The threat presented by the delta variant is growing more urgent. Hospitalizations have been slowly but steadily rising. The number of positive cases is also increasing. A handful of school districts are resuming distance learning. Government boards are returning to Zoom meetings.

The lawsuit, which was filed by 17 health care workers including doctors and nurses, named Hochul and her administration as defendants. The case alleges the mandate nullifies federal anti-discrimination laws for “sincere religious exemptions” granted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Late Tuesday afternoon, Hazel Crampton-Hays, press secretary to the governor, issued a lengthy statement responding to the lawsuit: “Gov. Hochul is doing everything in her power to protect New Yorkers and combat the delta variant by increasing vaccine rates across the state. Requiring vaccination of health care workers is critical to this battle. This order does not suspend the vaccine mandate, but it temporarily bars the Department of Health from enforcing the mandate where individuals have claims for religious exemption. We are considering all of our legal options to keep our communities safe.”

Hochul has strongly supported expansion of vaccination programs across the state to inoculate as many people as possible against the coronavirus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and New York’s Department of Health have backed statistics showing the vaccine slows the spread of COVID and is effective against the delta variant.

The lawsuit claims the vaccine mandate for health care workers specifically excludes religious exemptions. Lawyers say the plaintiffs are not anti-vaxxers, but are health care workers simply seeking choice.

People are continuing to die from the coronavirus. Most of these people are unvaccinated, according to health experts, including physicians. The right to choose is important, there is no doubt. Yet a lengthy court stalemate will lead to more deaths, deaths that could be prevented.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1