In a major public health policy change, New York City will no longer require city workers to be vaccinated against COVID, Mayor Eric Adams announced Monday.
The new rule will take effect on Friday. It will also apply to non-public schools, such as private and religious educational institutions, and early childcare and daycare staff.
“With more than 96 percent of city workers and more than 80 percent of New Yorkers having received their primary COVID-19 series and more tools readily available to keep us healthy, this is the right moment for this decision,” Adams said in a press release. “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.”
The vaccine mandate, which was instituted by former Mayor Bill De Blasio in 2021, had resulted in protests and unsuccessful lawsuits from municipal workers who accused the city of overreach and violating their religious beliefs.
As part of the new policy, individuals visiting public school buildings will no longer be required to provide proof of one dose of the vaccine.
About 1,780 employees — less than 1% of the municipal workforce — have been fired for failing to provide proof of COVID vaccination. Although they will not be able to return to their jobs, they will be able to apply to work at their former agencies, according to the press release.
Although the vaccine mandate had been vigorously opposed in some circles, studies by the city's health department credited the city's vaccination campaign with saving lives.
The daily average number of hospitalizations in New York City is now around 76, according to the health department's data. During the height of the pandemic, that figure was over 1,600.
But Dr. Jay Varma, who served as the health policy adviser to de Blasio, told Gothamist that ending the mandate is a mistake.
He said he worried that the city dropping its requirement would have a "cascading impact" on the private sector, in which private companies would stop mandating their employees to be vaccinated.
That could lead to a reduction in percentage of adults vaccinated over time, Varma said.
"While the city may not longer consider COVID an emergency, it is still killing over 10 New Yorkers a day, and vaccination is the single best way to prevent those deaths," he added.
Among many of the city's Democratic lawmakers, the reaction to the ending of the vaccine mandate was muted.
City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, released a joint statement with Councilmember Lynn Schulman, the chair of the council's health committee. They did not directly weigh in on the mayor's decision, but rather urged the city to raise awareness among New Yorkers to get their booster shots.
"As the mayoral administration announced the end of the vaccine mandate for municipal employees, we must be clear that vaccines are safe, effective, and save lives," they said, noting that only 14% of city residents have received a bivalent dose.
In contrast, members of the City Council's Common-Sense Caucus, were quick to praise the mayor's decision. In a statement, the group — which consists of Republicans and moderate Democrats — called the removal of the mandate a "tremendous step toward righting the wrongs of the previous administration's misguided pandemic policies."
Patrick Lynch, the president of the city's largest police union, the Police Benevolent Association, welcomed the policy change, but also said that those who were fired for not getting vaccinated should be able to return to work "with backpay and without condition."
In a statement, the city's teachers' union noted that vaccines and boosters "are the best way to keep ourselves and our school communities safe." At the same time, the union recognized the disparity the policy had created between municipal and private sector workers.
Teachers were among the first city employees required to be vaccinated.
The vaccine requirement spurred numerous legal challenges against the city.
Last September, a judge sided with the PBA and ordered the city to reinstate its members who were fired for refusing to get vaccinated. The city immediately appealed the decision.
Just last month, dozens of fired municipal employees filed a lawsuit against the city seeking to end the rule as well as $250 million in damages.
Thea Setterbo, a spokesperson with DC37, the city's largest municipal union, declined to comment on the mayor's announcement, citing the ongoing lawsuit against the city.
This story has been updated with the city's hospitalization data, comments from City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams and the city's unions.