Hochul defends vaccine requirement for health workers after federal judge blocks mandate

New York

New York Governor Kathy Hochul sits during her swearing in ceremony at the New York State Capitol in Albany, New York on August 24, 2021. – New York Governor Andrew Cuomo handed over the reins of the nation’s fourth most populous state to Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, a fellow Democrat who will become New York’s first ever female governor. (Photo by Angela Weiss / AFP) (Photo by ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images)

(WETM) — Governor Kathy Hochul reaffirmed her commitment to a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for New York health care workers after a federal judge in Utica blocked the requirement.

In a written order, U.S. District Judge David Hurd stopped the mandate from taking effect on Sept. 27 because it does not allow for religious exemptions.

Hurd sided with 17 health professionals who filed a lawsuit, claiming the mandate violated the U.S. Constitution and state human rights laws because it provided no exemption for “sincere religious beliefs that compel the refusal of such vaccination.”

Hochul, however, 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 sanction [or] 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, P.C., said the lawsuit has merit only to the extent that there’s not a religious exemption allowance.

“The state is required to allow for genuinely held religious exemptions,” said Ostrove. “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 healthcare 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,” said Ostrove.

Hochul said a mandate is the best way to protect patients.

“I believe the mandates are smart,” she said. “They are one of the reasons we having an increase in the number of people getting vaccine. I have heard from hospitals that they are seeing more of their healthcare workers who are on the fence, taking their time evaluating, and so we are having the effect we want.”

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