By Chris Sommerfeldt
New York Daily News
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NEW YORK — New York City municipal workers will no longer need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 — and those fired for refusing to get immunized can reapply for their old jobs, Mayor Adams announced Monday in a major pandemic policy reversal.
The vaccine mandate for the municipal workforce, which has been in place since November 2021, will officially end this Friday after the city Board of Health ratifies the move, Adams said in a statement. He said it’s justified to lift the inoculation requirement 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 also 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, and Council conservatives have lobbied his administration on the matter for months.
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 shows.
Meantime, vaccination rates have largely plateaued in the city, data shows. Just 14% of New York City residents have gotten booster shots.
“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.
The municipal mandate has been the subject of litigation for months.
A State Island judge ruled in October that the city should reinstate — with backpay — a group of Department of Sanitation workers who’d been fired for failing to comply with the vaccine rule.
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. Adams spokesmen did not immediately return a request for comment on what will happen to the appeal in light of the mandate termination.
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.
After Adams’ Monday announcement, PBA President Pat Lynch said 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.
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