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Mayor de Blasio announces vaccine mandate for all NYC public schools staff

New York Daily News logo New York Daily News 8/24/2021 Michael Elsen-Rooney, New York Daily News
a person standing next to a window: An FDNY Registered Nurse (RN) administer a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Martha Erekke a FDNY Certified First Responder (CFR) Firefighter at the Fire Department Headquarters in Brooklyn on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020. © Luiz C. Ribeiro for New York Dai An FDNY Registered Nurse (RN) administer a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Martha Erekke a FDNY Certified First Responder (CFR) Firefighter at the Fire Department Headquarters in Brooklyn on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020.

More than 148,000 teachers and staff working in New York City’s public schools will have to be vaccinated for COVID before the end of next month — a significant ratcheting up of Mayor de Blasio’s push to get more city workers inoculated.

a man wearing goggles: An FDNY Registered Nurse (RN) administers a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to an FDNY Certified First Responder (CFR) Firefighter at the Fire Department Headquarters in Brooklyn on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020. The Department can vaccinate up to 450 members per day at the three locations combined. Vaccinations are not mandatory but are strongly encouraged. Since the start of the pandemic, the Department has lost 12 members to COVID-19, including five members of EMS and seven civilians. © Luiz C. Ribeiro for New York Dai An FDNY Registered Nurse (RN) administers a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to an FDNY Certified First Responder (CFR) Firefighter at the Fire Department Headquarters in Brooklyn on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020. The Department can vaccinate up to 450 members per day at the three locations combined. Vaccinations are not mandatory but are strongly encouraged. Since the start of the pandemic, the Department has lost 12 members to COVID-19, including five members of EMS and seven civilians.

De Blasio announced the vaccine mandate for all city schools staff Monday morning, noting that any workers in public schools — including custodians, cafeteria workers and outside contractors — will have until Sept. 27 to show proof of receiving at least one dose of the vaccine.

“We know this is going to help ensure that everyone is safe,” the mayor said.

The new mandate — which will be issued in the form of an order from the Department of Health — overrides a previous rule that required all city workers either show proof of vaccination or undergo weekly testing and be required to wear masks indoors.

Under the new mandate, teachers and staff will have to upload proof of a first shot, which can include a vaccination card or a state Excelsior Pass, to the Department of Education’s vaccination portal.

And while Monday’s announcement only applies to school staff, de Blasio hinted that more stringent requirements could be coming for additional city workers who are still covered by the prior order in the weeks ahead.

The latest order from the city comes as the federal Food and Drug Administration issued a long-anticipated full approval for the Pfizer vaccine on Monday as well. That vaccine and others like it, including those from Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, had received emergency approvals from the agency starting in December.

a person standing in front of a bus: Cristian Obretin, a Peter Lugo Restaurant worker, displays his CDC Vaccination Card after being vaccinated on an NYC Mobile Vaccine Clinic bus parked on Seventh Ave. and 54th St. in Brooklyn early Wednesday, April 7, 2021. © Luiz C. Ribeiro for New York Dai Cristian Obretin, a Peter Lugo Restaurant worker, displays his CDC Vaccination Card after being vaccinated on an NYC Mobile Vaccine Clinic bus parked on Seventh Ave. and 54th St. in Brooklyn early Wednesday, April 7, 2021.

But the lack of full vaccine approvals has kept some on the fence about getting inoculated — despite the emergency go-ahead from the FDA.

De Blasio described the FDA’s latest Pfizer approval Monday as a “game-changing moment.”

“We’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” he said. “This helps us move forward.”


Video: NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio on vaccine mandate for school teachers and staff (MSNBC)

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Despite that, he suggested he anticipates potential push back on the labor front and said his administration would “immediately” begin talks with the unions involved, including the powerful United Federation of Teachers.

That union didn’t wait for de Blasio’s press conference to end before issuing a statement and threatened to take the mandate to arbitration if its concerns aren’t addressed.

“The city’s teachers have led the way on this issue, with the great majority already vaccinated,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said. “While the city is asserting its legal authority to establish this mandate, there are many implementation details, including provisions for medical exceptions, that by law must be negotiated with the UFT and other unions, and if necessary, resolved by arbitration.”

a group of people walking down the street: An NYC Mobile Vaccine Clinic bus is seen parked on Seventh Ave. and 54th St. in Brooklyn early Wednesday, April 7, 2021. © Luiz C. Ribeiro for New York Dai An NYC Mobile Vaccine Clinic bus is seen parked on Seventh Ave. and 54th St. in Brooklyn early Wednesday, April 7, 2021.

The UFT supported the city’s prior vaccination policy, which allowed teachers to forego vaccinations if they submitted to weekly testing and wore masks.

The Municipal Labor Committee, an umbrella organization that represents several unions and 350,000 city workers, took a harder line and voted later on Monday to sue the city to ensure the city bargains with it on the implementation of the new policy.

“Many of the unions support and urge their members to be vaccinated. However, the city is required to collectively bargain the steps to be taken for implementing this policy” said MLC Chairman Harry Nespoli. “Our members’ bargaining rights in this situation must be preserved. We are willing to discuss the steps for implementation as well as situations where accommodations would be appropriate.”

Nespoli added that the city’s “unilateral action” would only lead to delays in carrying out the mandate.

City officials said they’re not expecting an exodus of teachers in the form of retirements as a result of the mandate, though.

“I do not expect a staffing shortage,” said Schools Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter. “I expect our staff members to get vaccinated. Our teachers have been our greatest heroes throughout this pandemic and showed up in so many amazing ways — and this is the next way to get our babies back in class and to keep them protected.”

a blue bus parked in front of a building: An NYC Mobile Vaccine Clinic bus is seen parked on Seventh Ave. and 54th St. in Brooklyn early Wednesday, April 7, 2021. The bus can give out 150-200 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine a day and will be used to reach the city's most vulnerable populations. © Luiz C. Ribeiro for New York Dai An NYC Mobile Vaccine Clinic bus is seen parked on Seventh Ave. and 54th St. in Brooklyn early Wednesday, April 7, 2021. The bus can give out 150-200 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine a day and will be used to reach the city's most vulnerable populations.

So far, about 63% of Education Department employees have at least one vaccine dose, according to city officials.

De Blasio said the city would engage unions in what he described as “impact bargaining,” which would essentially focus on dealing with the impacts of the policy — not on whether the policy itself should or should not be implemented.

“Either way you slice it, this policy is moving forward and this mandate will be in place,” he said. “That’s the bottom line.”

a group of people standing in front of a crowd: Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) is joined by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio as they visit a mobile vaccination site in the Bronx on Friday afternoon on May 7, 2021, in New York City. The Bronx, along with parts of Brooklyn and Staten Island, is one of the areas that has seen some resistance to getting the vaccine for COVID-19. The Bronx is also the borough that had the highest death rate from the pandemic. © Spencer Platt/Getty Images Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) is joined by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio as they visit a mobile vaccination site in the Bronx on Friday afternoon on May 7, 2021, in New York City. The Bronx, along with parts of Brooklyn and Staten Island, is one of the areas that has seen some resistance to getting the vaccine for COVID-19. The Bronx is also the borough that had the highest death rate from the pandemic.

Given the spread of the more contagious delta variant of the virus and the prospect that some businesses plan to delay scheduled in-person re-openings, de Blasio also suggested that business leaders should follow the city’s example and require employees to be vaccinated.

“We believe fundamentally that strong actions on vaccination are the way forward,” he said. “Come up with a schema to get your folks vaccinated. Let’s get everyone back.”

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