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NY vaccine mandate for healthcare workers 'null, void' following judge ruling

Posted at 11:52 AM, Jan 16, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-16 17:52:18-05

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — A state Supreme Court judge ruled on Friday that the Commissioner of Health for New York State, Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Department of Health overstepped their authority when mandating the COVID-19 vaccine for healthcare workers, a vaccine not included in the state public health law.

Judge Gerard Neri sided with Medical Professionals for Informed Consent, a group of medical workers who filed on October 20, 2022. The judge wrote in the ruling that the mandate is "null, void."

"In true Orwellian fashion, the Respondents acknowledge then-current COVID-19 shots do not prevent transmission,” he also wrote.

According to a statement from NYS DOH in an email to 7 News' Kristen Mirand, the state department is "exploring all options" moving forward.

The requirement that health care workers be vaccinated against COVID-19 protects vulnerable New Yorkers and the people who care for them, and it is a critical public health tool. The State Health Department strongly disagrees with the judge’s decision and is exploring all options," a spokesperson wrote in an email.

"It feels like it should've happened, you know, a long time ago," Rachel Ponka, a registered nurse, said.

For Ponka, this ruling is a step in the right direction.

"It's definitely great news to hear and I'm sure a lot of people are relieved about it," she added.

When the vaccine mandate went into effect in 2021 under former Governor Andrew Cuomo, Ponka said she didn't follow through with the requirement at a senior care center she worked at in Olean. She ended up losing her job as a result.

"It was heartbreaking and it really shook me up and I went through some pretty bad depression financially," Ponka said.

Steven M. Cohen, litigation chair with HoganWillig Law Firm said this ruling will, without a doubt, be appealed.

"Let's see where it goes from here," Cohen said.

Cohen said in the judge's ruling, the judge acknowledges that the vaccine doesn't stop the transmission of COVID-19.

"What his honor did is he said, 'Look whether you want to take the vaccine or not, that's up to you but it's not up to the executive branch of government,'" Cohen explained.

Cohen explained that this mandate decision was beyond the scope and authority of the New York Department of Health. He also explained, he wouldn't be surprised if Governor Hochul launches an investigation into the previous administration's office regarding this mandate decision.

"These issues are outside the scope of the executive branch. It's strictly within the legislative branch," he said.

Now, Ponka said this ruling opens up the possibility of working at a hospital once again.

"And I absolutely will that's you know that's what I want to do," she said.

7 News' Kristen Mirand did reach out to WNY hospitals for comment about the ruling but has not yet heard back.