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Should State Mandate COVID Vaccine?

Should New York state be able to require its residents to take a COVID-19 vaccine?

That issue is likely to come before the state Legislature in the coming year.

Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, D-New York City, recently introduced A.11179 in the state Assembly. The proposal would amend Article 21 of the state Public Health Law to require COVID-19 vaccines for all individuals who are clinically determined to be safe to receive such vaccine if the state COVID-19 Vaccination Administration Program fails to achieve sufficient immunity.

“In anticipation of a vaccine becoming available, New York state drafted a Vaccination Administration Program, which sets forth the manner in which the vaccine will be administered,” Rosenthal wrote in her legislative justification.

“This plan will help ensure orderly vaccination, but the State must make efforts to promote vaccination and ensure that a high enough percentage of the population is vaccinated against COVID-19 to develop sufficient immunity. If public health officials determine that sufficient immunity has not been developed, this legislation will allow the Department of Health to require vaccination for individuals able to safely receive the vaccine.”

Assemblyman John Salka, R-Brookfield, has proposed his own legislation (A.11172) that would prohibit a mandatory vaccine against COVID-19 unless a person chooses to be vaccinated and gives legal guardians of children and incapacitated persons the right to choose to vaccinate or not.

Salka wrote in his legislative justification that the speed with which the vaccines have been developed mean people should be allowed to make their own decisions.

“Due to the speed at which the coronavirus vaccine was developed in, the decision should be made to the individual not any private or public entity,” Salka wrote. “The decision should be made by the individual solely and to not allow this would be a great mistake. Vaccines take up to five years to be fully developed and researched. Phase 1 and phase 2 clinical trials typically take one to two years, and the Vaccine for Coronavirus passed these trials within months. Due to this, the decision should be able to made by the individual whether or not to receive the vaccine.”

New York’s COVID vaccination plan is to vaccinate essential health care workers and people at high risk for complications from the disease, including nursing home residents and staff, and health care workers in patient care settings, in the first phase. Then, the vaccine would move to teachers, first responders and frontline workers, including grocery store workers, and those with existing health conditions. The third phase would be anyone over 65 years of age, followed by a fourth phase that focuses on all remaining essential workers. A fifth phase would make the vaccine available to everyone. Each phase prioritizes those living in areas with the highest infection rates.

What the plan doesn’t answer is what happens if people refuse to be vaccinated. A late November Siena College poll of New York state voters found that if the FDA approves a COVID-19 vaccine, 35% of New Yorkers say they will definitely get it, 34% will probably get it and 24% will definitely or probably not get it.

“A strong majority of New Yorkers of every stripe – regardless of party, region, race, age, religion, gender, or even who they supported in the presidential election – say they will definitely or at least probably get a COVID-19 vaccine if it’s approved by the FDA,” said Steven Greenberg, Siena College pollster. “Seventy-four percent of Democrats say they will definitely or likely get the vaccine, as do 65 percent of Republicans, 64 percent of independents, 72 percent of white voters, 65 percent of Latino voters, 62 percent of Black voters, 76 percent of Biden voters, and 62 percent of Trump voters.”

A vaccine requirement isn’t likely nationally. According to a Dec. 5 article in USA Today, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an August town hall hosted by Healthline that a COVID-19 vaccine won’t be mandatory in the United States.

“I don’t think you’ll ever see a mandating of vaccine, particularly for the general public,” Fauci said. “If someone refuses the vaccine in the general public, then there’s nothing you can do about that. You cannot force someone to take a vaccine.”

Similarly, on Friday, President-elect Joe Biden has told reporters he would not make a vaccine mandatory, though he would try to encourage people to get the vaccine.

According to the National Conference of Legislatures, all 50 states and Washington, D.C., have laws requiring certain vaccines for students, and exemptions vary by state. All states grant exemptions to children for medical reasons, 45 states grant religious exemptions, and 15 allow philosophical exemptions for those who object to immunizations because of personal, moral, or other beliefs. New York ended religious exemptions for vaccines in 2019 in the wake of a measles outbreak in some areas of the state.

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