ALBANY, N.Y. (WETM) — On Wednesday, Gov. Kathy Hochul reaffirmed her commitment to health care worker COVID-19 vaccine mandates after health professionals sued the state.
Federal judge David Hurd in Utica issued the order after 17 health professionals, including doctors and nurses, claimed in a lawsuit Monday that their rights were violated with a vaccine mandate that disallowed religious exemptions.
“I believe the mandates are smart,” said Gov. Hochul. “They are one of the reasons we having an increase in the number of people getting the vaccine. I have heard from hospitals that they are seeing more of their health care workers who are on the fence, taking their time evaluating, and so we are having the effect we want.”
Hurd and the health professionals cited violations of the Constitution, New York State Human Rights Law, and New York City Human Rights Law, because the state Department of Health regulation requiring workers to get the vaccine provided no exemption for “sincere religious beliefs that compel the refusal of such vaccination.”
However, Gov. Hochul said she intentionally left religious exemptions out of the mandate. “This is my personal opinion because I’m going to be defending this in court,” she said. “I’m not aware of a sanctioned religious exemption from any organized religion. In fact, they’re encouraging the opposite. They’re encouraging their members. Everybody from the Pope on down is encouraging people to get vaccinated.”
Rick Ostrove, an attorney with Leeds Brown Law in New York, said the lawsuit has merit to the extent that there’s not a religious exemption allowance. However, the lawsuit doesn’t have merit beyond that. “The state is required to allow for genuinely held religious exemptions,” he said. “This law does not have that. So, it’s got to allow for that, but then the employer or the state has the right to evaluate the request. You don’t just get a religious exemption because you claim a religious exemption. It has to be a genuinely held religious belief.”
Ostrove thinks employees and health care workers are going to find it difficult to be granted an exemption. “I think people who are relying on a successful lawsuit, as opposed to getting the vaccine, are going to find themselves on the short end of the stick in most cases.”
Gov. Hochul said the patient’s health and safety are most important. “A patient [should] not have to worry when they go in there for health care that they’re going to contract a virus from one of the people who are supposed to protect their health.”