SCOTUS declines to block New York vaccine mandate for health care workers

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to block a New York state vaccine mandate for healthcare workers that did not include a religious exemption, with only three justices indicating they wanted to grant the religious exemptions, The Hill reports. 

A federal judge had ordered in October that the state include a religious exemption, but an appeals court upheld the original ruling without the religious exemption. The matter was then referred to Justice Sonya Sotomayor, who referred it to the full court for consideration.

The order was unsigned, but Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Clarence Thomas all wrote dissenting statements indicating they believed the religious exemptions should have been granted.

“Even if one were to read the State’s actions as something other than signs of animus, they leave little doubt that the revised mandate was specifically directed at the applicants’ unorthodox religious beliefs and practices,” Gorsuch wrote, noting that almost every other state “has found that it can satisfy its COVID-19 public health goals without coercing religious objectors to accept a vaccine.”

“We should know the costs”

Gorsuch added, “We should know the costs that come when this Court stands silent as majorities invade the constitutional rights of the unpopular and unorthodox.”

Then-Governor Andrew Cuomo (D)’s original mandate did have a religious exemption, but when Gov. Kathy Hokul took over after Cuomo resigned, she updated the mandate without a religious exemption option.

Most of the religious exemptions center on the vaccine’s use of fetal cells from abortions as part of their development, as USA Today noted.

Before the mandate took effect in October, there was a surge in vaccinations of health care workers, with at least 92% having at least one vaccine dose by the deadline.

Just wrong

Ahead of expected vaccine shortages, Hokul was set to deploy the National Guard to fill positions that were needed for emergency cases at local hospitals if necessary.

Healthcare workers have been outraged at the threats that they would be fired if they didn’t get the vaccine, especially at a time when they’re needed most, and even more so given the fact that just a year ago, they were celebrated as “heroes.”

They pointed out that they worked unvaccinated all through the early months of the pandemic when no vaccines were available, and feel like they are now being punished instead of appreciated.

Health facilities may not be out of the woods yet, with the omicron variant reportedly spreading far more quickly than previous variants. If it is not as mild as people are saying it is, hospitalizations could rise quickly and lead to a need for more staff that may not materialize, if even just a small percentage of healthcare workers are out of the workforce.

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