Flu Vaccine Mandate for Healthcare Workers Halted in New York

Emma Hitt, PhD

October 23, 2009

October 23, 2009 — Hundreds of thousands of healthcare workers in New York State are now no longer mandated to be vaccinated against seasonal and H1N1 influenza, according to a statement issued today by the state's health department.

In August, the New York State Health Department implemented mandatory vaccination of healthcare workers against both the seasonal and H1N1 strains of influenza, with a deadline of vaccination of November 30.

However, in a statement today, Gov. David A. Paterson pointed out the fact that there is a shortage of vaccine.

"Over the last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention...acknowledged that New York would only receive approximately 23 percent of its anticipated vaccine supply by the end of the month," Gov. Paterson said. "As a result, we need to be as resourceful as we can with the limited supplies of vaccine currently coming into the State and make sure that those who are at the highest risk for complications from the H1N1 flu receive the first vaccine being distributed right now in New York State."

According to a Wall Street Journal report, however, the reversal of the mandate may be for reasons other than just a vaccine shortage. Last week, a judge issued a temporary restraining order in response to several lawsuits claiming that the state had usurped legal boundaries by implementing the mandate.

Other states with mandatory but less stringent vaccination laws include Alabama, Arkansas, California, and Kentucky. In contrast to the New York State mandate, in some of these states the laws include exemptions through which healthcare workers can abstain from vaccination because of religious or medical reasons (eg, Alabama and Kentucky), and in California, healthcare workers can decline vaccination in writing for any reason. At this time, none of these states' policies have been modified in response to the vaccine shortage.

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