Judge blocks New York's medical worker vaccine mandate

A federal judge temporarily blocked the state of New York on Tuesday from forcing medical workers to be vaccinated after a group of health care workers sued, saying their Constitutional rights were violated because the state's mandate disallowed religious exemptions.

Judge David Hurd in Utica issued the order after 17 health professionals, including doctors and nurses, claimed in a lawsuit Monday that their rights were violated with a vaccine mandate that disallowed the exemptions.

In their lawsuit, health care professionals disguised their identities with pseudonyms such as "Dr. A.," "Nurse A.," and "Physician Liaison X." They insist they are not so-called anti-vaxxers. Instead, they say the mandate violates their constitutional rights, particularly on the issue of religious exemption.

"It reaffirms that if you have a sincerely held religious belief, you can have an accommodation at work," employment law attorney Andrew Lieb told FOX 5 NY. (He is not affiliated with the case.)

The lawsuit claims that all of the available vaccines employ aborted fetus cell lines in their testing, development or production. But religious leaders have disagreed over the issue and the Vatican issued a statement last year saying the vaccines were "morally acceptable."

"Their religious belief is about being anti-abortion. And they're saying certain embryo and fetal tissues were used in development or research of the different vaccines that we're using," Lieb said. "And they're saying, 'We have a belief that says that we shouldn't be involved in this.'" 

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The plaintiffs, all Christians, included practicing doctors, nurses, a nuclear medicine technologist, a cognitive rehabilitation therapist and a physician's liaison who all oppose as a matter of religious conviction any medical cooperation in abortion, the lawsuit said.

The judge gave New York state until Sept. 22 to respond to the lawsuit in federal court in Utica. If the state opposes the plaintiffs' request for a preliminary court order blocking the vaccine mandate, a Sept. 28 oral hearing will occur.

The state issued the order Aug. 28, requiring at least a first shot for health care workers at hospitals and nursing homes by Sept. 27.

Gov. Kathy Hochul's press secretary issued a statement about the ruling.

"Governor Hochul is doing everything in her power to protect New Yorkers and combat the Delta variant by increasing vaccine rates across the State. Requiring vaccination of health care workers is critical to this battle," Hazel Crampton-Hays said. "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."

Lieb told FOX 5 NY that the mandate as written is flawed. 

"It should have always had a sincerely held religious exemption," he said.

With The Associated Press.