NYSBA Convenes Emergency Task Force on Mandatory Vaccination and Safeguarding the Public’s Health
With the number of cases of the highly transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus rising precipitously around the country, the New York State Bar Association is convening an emergency task force to determine whether COVID-19 vaccination mandates should be considered in the interest of protecting the greatest possible number of people and preventing another virus wave.
NYSBA’s House of Delegates in November 2020 approved a resolution urging state authorities to consider a decisional framework for mandating a COVID-19 vaccine upon determination that inoculations would be both safe and effective. The resolution also called for culturally appropriate public education campaigns to urge voluntary vaccination by all eligible New Yorkers.
Eight months later, multiple coronavirus vaccines have been approved for emergency use and are widely available, and considerable scientific evidence has been compiled supporting their safety and efficacy. But a significant number (about 59%) of people living in the United States – including approximately 30% of adult New Yorkers – are not fully vaccinated, and data show that the highly contagious Delta variant is spreading quickly among this population.
Public education campaigns have thus far failed to convince vaccine hesitant individuals and communities to protect themselves and others – particularly children who are too young to be eligible for inoculation. This effort has been further complicated by political infighting and persistent spreading of misinformation.
NYSBA’s Emergency Task Force on Mandatory Vaccination and Safeguarding the Public’s Health will examine whether the significant step of mandating vaccines is required for the greater good. The task force will also consider vaccine hesitancy among vulnerable populations – including people of color and Indigenous communities – who have a long history of mistreatment and, as a result, a deep-seated mistrust of government.
“Government has no more pressing responsibility than to protect the public’s health and safety,” said NYSBA President T. Andrew Brown. “Those who don’t get vaccinated are not only endangering themselves, but also putting those around them at risk – including some of our most vulnerable residents who, through no fault of their own, cannot protect themselves. Our state and nation are at a dangerous tipping point. It is time to consider all possible options to protect the largest number of individuals and communities against this highly contagious and fast-moving virus.”
Task Force Chair Dr. Mary Beth Morrissey, who also served as chair of the November 2020 Task Force, has agreed to lead the emergency effort, and stressed that it will be moving forward with a sense of urgency as the threat posed by the Delta variant grows graver by the day. Already, officials in California and New York City have issued vaccine mandates for public employees, and the Department of Veterans Affairs has become the first federal agency to require vaccination for health care workers.
“It is well established that rights are not absolute and public health authorities have the legal authority to mandate a vaccine if there is a significant threat to the public’s health,” said Morrissey, a public health law attorney and research Fellow at Fordham University’s Global Health Care Innovation Management Center and a faculty member in the graduate schools. “We intend to work swiftly so that we can advise policymakers, legislators, the public and journalists what steps must be taken to protect the public’s health, with a critical eye toward achieving equity and eliminating disparities when it comes to access to vaccines and public health protections.”
The task force will hold its first meeting on Friday, July 30 at 8 a.m. and meet again Monday Aug. 2 at 8 a.m. The timeline for the task force to complete its work is approximately four weeks.
The members of the task force are:
• Mary Beth Quaranta Morrissey, Esq., PhD, Fellow, Fordham University Global Health Care Innovation Management Center, and Adjunct Professor, Fordham University Gabelli School of Business and Graduate School of Social Services
• Kathleen Burke, Esq., Senior Counsel, New York-Presbyterian Hospital
• Hermes Fernandez, Esq., Chair, Bond, Schoeneck & King’s Health Law Group
• Candace Gomez, Esq., Co-chair, Bond, Schoeneck & King’s School Law Practice
• Lisa Hayes, Esq, Associate General Counsel, One Brooklyn Health System, and Adjunct Professor, John Jay College of Criminal Justice
• Brendan Parent, Esq, Assistant Professor, Division of Medical Ethics, with joint appointment in surgery at NYU Grossman School of Medicine
• Michael Passarella, Esq., Partner, Labor and Employment Law, Olshan
About the New York State Bar Association
The New York State Bar Association is the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. Since 1876, NYSBA has helped shape the development of law, educated and informed the legal profession and the public, and championed the rights of New Yorkers through advocacy and guidance in our communities.
Contact: Christian Nolan