Syracuse judge strikes down NY vaccine mandate for health workers, rules state overstepped its authority –

Dr. Muhammad Asad Kahn, a vascular surgeon, gets his covid vaccine shot at St. Joseph's Hospital in Syracuse in December 2020. (Dennis Nett |
Syracuse, N.Y. — A state Supreme Court judge in Syracuse on Friday struck down a statewide mandate for medical staff to be vaccinated against Covid-19.
Judge Gerard Neri ruled that Gov. Kathy Hochul and the state’s health department overstepped their authority by sidestepping the Legislature and making permanent the mandate meant to limit transmission of Covid in hospitals and healthcare facilities.
Neri sided with the Medical Professionals for Informed Consent, a group of medical professionals who lost or were at risk of losing their jobs because of the vaccine mandate, in its lawsuit against the state.
Neri said the state is prohibited from mandating vaccinations outside of what is detailed in public health law, which included mentions of mumps, measles and hepatitis.
“The Mandate is beyond the scope of Respondents’ authority and is therefore null, void, and of no effect,” he wrote.
It is unclear what will be the effect of Neri’s ruling and any likely appeals. The issue of mandating the vaccine for workers has generated many lawsuits and court decisions.
In December 2021, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to block New York’s requirement that healthcare workers be vaccinated.
The order requiring healthcare workers in New York state was enacted in August 2021 during the pandemic after the state legislature had ceded power to then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo on an emergency basis. The governor rescinded that emergency power in June 2021. In June 2022, the health commissioner made permanent the vaccine mandate for healthcare workers.
The state argued the mandate was not irrational or unreasonable and was backed by other court decisions. The judge disagreed, ruling the state didn’t have the authority to make the mandate permanent.
The judge also said the state acknowledges vaccines don’t prevent covid transmission despite the title of the executive order: “Prevention of COVID-19 transmission by covered entities”
“In true Orwellian fashion, the Respondents acknowledge then-current COVID-19 shots do not prevent transmission,” the judge wrote.
The state did, however, say in court papers that fully vaccinated people who come down with Covid-19 are less likely to develop serious illness, be hospitalized or die than those who are not vaccinated. The state acknowledged that breakthrough infections occur and are more likely with more recent variants of the virus.
The state Health Department said that it “strongly disagrees with Neri’s decision, according to a statement issued Saturday. The department is currently exploring its options, they said.
“The requirement that healthcare workers be vaccinated against COVID-19 protects vulnerable New Yorkers and the people who care for them, and the requirement is a critical public health tool,” the statement said.
Medical studies have shown that the vaccinations helped reduce transmission of the early variants of the virus, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The vaccinations appear to be less effective in reducing transmission of later variants but the vaccinations continue to reduce serious illness, hospitalizations and death, studies show.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with a comment from the NY Health Department.
Past articles
New York mandates Covid vaccines for all health care workers in state (August 2021)
More CNY health care workers will lose jobs if they don’t get Covid shots by Monday (November 2021)
Syracuse hospital fires 45 workers for refusing to get state-mandated Covid vaccination (November 2021)
Syracuse’s biggest hospital lays off another 81 workers for refusing Covid vaccinations (November 2021)
NY backs off on Covid booster mandate for health care workers after hospitals push back (February 2022)
Staff writer Fernando Alba covers breaking news, crime and public safety. Have a tip, story idea, question or comment? Reach him: Email | Twitter or at 315-690-6950.
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