New York delays enforcement of booster mandate for health care workers

When New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced in January that health care workers would have to get a COVID vaccine booster to remain on the job, she billed it as a necessary requirement to protect workers and patients alike.

Six weeks later, the state has dropped the booster mandate – at least for now.

Hochul’s administration announced Friday that it wouldn’t begin enforcing the booster rule for health care workers Feb. 21, as it originally planned. Instead, the state Department of Health reported it would push it off for at least three months before reassessing whether to impose it.

Why the reversal? The Health Department put the blame on staffing levels.

Of the roughly 1 million workers covered by the rule, fewer than half – about 448,000 – had received their booster as of Tuesday, according to data released by the state agency. Another 284,589 told their employers they’re willing to be boosted and are awaiting a shot, but haven’t yet received one.

That leaves about 25% who haven’t received the booster and haven’t signaled a willingness to do so, putting more than 200,000 health care workers at risk of suspension or termination, had the mandate gone into effect Monday.

That kind of staffing cut was untenable for an already taxed workforce, according to state Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett.

“While we are making progress with 75% of staff received or are willing to receive their booster, the reality is that not enough healthcare workers will be boosted by next week’s requirement in order to avoid substantial staffing issues in our already overstressed healthcare system,” she said in a statement

The booster mandate will technically remain on the books, though the state says it will not be enforced at least through mid-May. New York’s decision came after California and Connecticut delayed their booster requirements for health care workers until early March, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Health care workers in New York still have to follow the state’s original vaccination mandate, which required them to receive two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson.

The percentage of New York workers who have received a booster shot varies widely by sector, according to the data released by the Department of Health.

Among direct care staff, 88% of hospital workers have received the booster or are willing to do so and awaiting a shot, the data show. Among direct care hospice workers, it’s 91%.

But in nursing homes, just 51% of direct care workers received the booster shot already or are willing to do so, according to the state.

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