Judge blocks NY state vaccine mandate for medical workers

A New York federal judge on Tuesday temporarily blocked the state’s vaccine mandate for medical workers.

U.S. District Judge David Hurd issued an order temporarily barring the New York State Department of Health from enforcing or otherwise requiring compliance with the vaccine mandate since it does not grant religious exemptions.

A hearing for a preliminary injunction is slated for Sept. 22.

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Hazel Crampton-Hays, press secretary to New York Gov. Kathy HochulKathy HochulNew York hospitals brace for mass staff shortages as vaccine deadline looms Meghan, Prince Harry visit One World Trade Center NY health chief criticized over state's COVID-19 response resigns MORE (D), told The Hill that the governor's office is "considering all legal options." 

"Requiring vaccination of healthcare workers is critical to this battle. This order does not suspend the vaccine mandate, but it temporarily bars the Department of Health from enforcing the mandate where individuals have claims for religious exemption. We are considering all of our legal options to keep our communities safe," she continued. 

The ruling comes after a group of 17 medical workers sued the state on Monday asking to enjoin the order.

The complaint argued that the mandate violates the free exercise clause of the First Amendment as well as the 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal protection.

The suit also argues that the mandate violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on factors such as religion, gender, race and national origin.

In mid-August, then-New York Gov. Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoNY health chief criticized over state's COVID-19 response resigns Zeldin says he's in remission after treatment for leukemia Letitia James holding private talks on running for New York governor: report MORE (D) announced that health care employees would have to start their vaccination process by Sept. 27. This mandate applied to staff at hospitals and long-term care facilities.

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Cuomo’s administration said at the time that the vaccine mandate would come with limited exceptions for religious and medical reasons.

However, the most recent rule adopted by the New York State Department of Health in late August provides for covered workers to obtain medical exemptions but doesn’t have a provision for religious exemptions.

The suit named New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D), New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker and New York Attorney General Letitia James (D).

James’s office referred comment on the suit to the New York State Department of Health,which referred the Hill to Crampton-Hays' comment.

-- Updated 5:40 p.m.