Adams ends private sector, student COVID vaccine mandates; requirement remains for city employees

Adams, COVID
Mayor Eric Adams announces he’s lifting the city’s private sector and student athlete COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022.
Photo by Ethan Stark-Miller

Mayor Eric Adams and the city’s top doctor Ashwin Vasan on Tuesday lifted the Big Apple’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for private sector employees and student athletes, but the requirement will stay in place for municipal workers for the foreseeable future, the mayor said.

The student athlete vaccine mandate is gone effective immediately, Adams said, while the private sector mandate will end Nov. 1. Hizzoner also announced the city will be rolling out a multimedia public information campaign over the next week encouraging New Yorkers to get the bivalent booster shot – after he got his own booster at City Hall during the Sept. 20 press event.

“We will provide additional flexibility to business by lifting the private sector mandate on Nov. 1,” Adams said. “This puts the choice in the hands of New York businesses. It’s imperative that we’re asking them to continue to encourage their employees to get their vaccines and booster shots.”

“We are removing the requirement to be vaccinated to participate in sports and extracurricular activities,” he added. “We’re removing that requirement for all our school children. Although that removal is no indication that we don’t believe boosters are important and vaccinations are important. We’re going to continue to encourage parents to vaccinate their children.”

Mayor Eric Adams gets COVID-19 booster shot from Dr. Ashwin Vasan. Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022. Photo by Ethan Stark-Miller.

While the mayor indicated it was the recommendation of public health experts to end the private sector mandate now, he said in response to a question from PoliticsNY that his administration didn’t collect data on what percentage of the city’s private businesses had all of their employees vaccinated and boosted.

Adams added, when asked by reporters about keeping the public sector mandate, that throwing out the mandate for municipal employees is currently “not on the radar for us.”

“I don’t think anything in general with COVID makes sense and there’s no logical pathway one can do,” Adams said. “You make decisions based on how to keep our city safe. How to keep our employees operated. By taking the vaccine, we were able to keep the city open. And so we have to do it according to what’s best and the medical science. The determination now from our medical team is to remove the private sector mandate, remove the sports mandates for children. And that is where we are and if something’s going to change we’re going to announce it.”

The private sector mandate was instituted by Adams’ predecessor, Bill de Blasio, near the end of his time in office last year. The requirement applied to all businesses across the city with more than one employee, but went largely unenforced when the Adams administration inherited it.

Vasan also defended the decision, saying the mandates have been effective at pushing people to get vaccinated and that public health decisions shouldn’t be seen in isolation but rather as a cohesive strategy by the city’s health department.

“The purpose of the mandate in the interest of public health is also to push people to get vaccinated, which it’s been extraordinarily successful in doing,” Vasan said. “Whether it’s the city worker mandate, private sector mandate, the childhood athletics mandate and anything else. So, it’s important to not see these things in isolation and then say, ‘well, what’s the narrow rationale for this one decision?’ And see it as disconnected from the rest.”

The decision to lift the vaccine requirement for private businesses but not for city workers may rankle public sector labor unions and the over 1,000 city employees who were fired for not getting the shot, who have continually called on the city to rehire them after they were let go last February.

The City Council’s Common Sense Caucus – which consists of the body’s five GOP members and Democrats Robert Holden (Queens) and Kalman Yeger (Brooklyn) – quickly put out a statement applauding the death of a mandate they viewed as “inequitable.”

“After a constructive meeting with our caucus two weeks ago, we are very pleased Mayor Adams has decided to remove COVID vaccine mandates that have been hurting our businesses, hampering our city’s economic recovery and preventing our children from fully participating in sports and after school activities,” they said. “This is a significant step toward correcting the errors and inequitable policies of the previous administration.”

The caucus added they’re also going to continue lobbying the mayor to end the public employees mandate.

“We will continue engaging with the mayor and his administration to also end the public employee COVID vaccine mandate and bring back city workers who were placed on leave or fired due to their vaccination status, especially now that the Centers for Disease Control and the President of the United States have declared that this pandemic is over,” they said.