New York's Covid-19 vaccine mandates boost dosage rates

The next phase of the state's vaccine mandates takes effect on Oct 7.
The next phase of the state's vaccine mandates takes effect on Oct 7.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - New York Governor Kathy Hochul says a Covid-19 vaccine mandate for health workers that went into effect this week is working to boost vaccination rates, providing a road map to other states that are trying to fight the highly transmissible Delta variant.

About 92 per cent of nursing home staff in New York had received at least one vaccine dose as of Monday evening, up from 82 per cent on Sept 20 and 71 per cent when Hochul was sworn in on Aug 24, according to the governor's office. And 85 per cent of hospital staff were fully inoculated, up from 84 per cent on Sept 22 and 77 per cent on Aug 24, according to state data.

"This new information shows that holding firm on the vaccine mandate for health care workers is simply the right thing to do to protect our vulnerable family members and loved ones from Covid-19," Hochul said on Tuesday (Sept 28) in a statement.

Healthcare workers statewide were required to get at least their first dose of the vaccine by Sept 27, as the state continues to battle a rise in Covid-19 cases, especially among unvaccinated people. Those who refuse the shot or who don't receive an exemption face termination.

Hochul signed an executive order on Monday declaring a state of emergency due to the potential staffing shortage. The order will allow healthcare workers from outside the state, including people who live outside the United States to practice in New York, and eliminate barriers for retirees to re-enter the workforce.

The governor said she is still monitoring whether to deploy medically trained National Guard members to help if there are shortages.

The next phase of the state's vaccine mandates takes effect on Oct 7, when it extends to other providers, including hospice programmes and home care agencies. A survey this month by the Home Care Association of New York State found that thousands of workers would quit rather than get vaccinated.

The New York State Assembly Republican Conference sent a letter to Hochul on Tuesday urging her to delay the deadline until there's a plan for dealing with the healthcare staffing crisis.

"While it is encouraging that you have considered steps to address the staffing situation, presenting a response plan merely two days before the Sept 27 deadline is too late for providers that have already cut back on services available to patients," according to the letter.

Hospitals, though, say they have been planning for the deadline for weeks.

The Greater New York Hospital Association has been speaking with its member hospitals and health systems in the last 24 hours, and "overall, despite some isolated pockets of some services being temporarily downsized, we're very pleased and relieved by the 'day after' lay of the land," said association spokesman Brian Conway.

There was a significant surge in healthcare workers who decided to get vaccinated before the deadline, Conway said. And Hochul's actions helped give hospitals "additional tools and flexibility to address staffing shortages," he said.

Only nine hospital facilities in New York are currently reporting critical staffing shortages, representing about 5 per cent of the state's facilities, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.

On Tuesday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also hailed vaccine mandates following a court panel decision on Monday that the city could proceed with a requirement for teachers and other education workers.

School workers at the largest school district in the US have until Friday at 5pm to get their first Covid-19 shot or get placed on unpaid leave. Principals will have the weekend to find substitute teachers so that "by Monday morning, 100 per cent of staff will be vaccinated," de Blasio said during a briefing.

He cited an analysis that the average number of daily vaccinations in the city has increased by 45 per cent since the first mandates were put in place in July. "Vaccine mandates not only work, but they are winning in court," de Blasio said. "People respond to deadlines."

New cases and hospitalisations have been decreasing in recent weeks. The seven-day average for daily cases in New York City was 1,548 on Sunday, down from over 1,900 cases a day in August, according to city data. The daily number of hospitalisations on a seven-day average fell to 56 on Sunday, from 119 last month.