New York City’s new health commissioner, Ashwin Vasan, said on Friday that the city’s vaccine mandate for private-sector workers who work on-site will continue indefinitely. The city’s school mask mandate for children aged 5 and under will also remain in place.
At his first COVID-19 press briefing, when asked whether there were any specific benchmarks that would enable the city to decide to lift the vaccine mandate for private-sector workers, Vasan did not initially provide a direct response.
“I would love to sit here and say I can give you a date or a data point to say when we would lift those things. Right now, we are in a low risk environment and we will continue to evaluate that data,” he said.
When pressed further about whether there were any specific metric in mind for which the city government would lift the mandate Vasan responded: “I think it’s indefinite at this point.”
“People who have tried to predict what will happen in this future for this pandemic have repeatedly found egg on their face, as they say,” he added. “And I’m not going to do that here today.”
He noted that the city’s color-coded risk alert system provides the government with “very clear benchmarks,” with COVID-19 cases, hospitalization rates, and bed occupancy rates being the “pillars” of the alert system.
The COVID-19 vaccine mandate for the private sector workers was announced in December 2021 under former Mayor Bill de Blasio, requiring all private employers to require their employees to have proof of COVID-19 vaccination. Prior to that, de Blasio announced in October 2021 a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all public sector workers.
The latest announcement by Vasan comes as a new form of the Omicron variant is rapidly spreading in New York—the BA.2 subvariant, accounting for about 39 percent of the cases in the state, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Mask Mandates for Children Under 5 Remains
When asked whether the city has any plans to lift school mask mandates for children under five, Vasan replied: “We’ll keep evaluating whether that mandate should stay in place, and right now we think it should stay in place.”
New York State on March 2 lifted its school mask mandate for children aged five and over. The state kept the mandate for younger children, with the rationale being that this age group is not eligible to take a COVID-19 vaccine.
“We have consistently seen disproportionate hospital rates in the under 5 population compared with other childhood groups, and as a father of a two and a half year old and two other older kids, I want to keep them as safe as possible,” Vasan said. “I would love nothing more than to send my son to day care without a mask, but as a scientist and as a doctor and an epidemiologist, I want to keep him safe especially because he’s not eligible for a vaccine.”
Two mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines are currently available in the United States under emergency use authorization (EUA)—one from Pfizer-BioNTech and the other from Moderna.
The only COVID-19 vaccine that has been authorized for emergency use for people 16 and older is Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine, which is marketed as Comirnaty. Doses are to be produced in the future, according to documents from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
A separate, existing supply of COVID-19 vaccines under Pfizer-BioNTech continue to be available under an updated EUA for those over 16. The FDA has also granted an EUA for Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine for those aged 12–15 in May 2021, and for children aged 5–11 in October 2021.
Dr. Robert Malone, a virologist and immunologist who has contributed significantly to the technology of mRNA vaccines, issued a strong caution for those who seek to have their children vaccinated against COVID-19.
He previously told EpochTV’s “American Thought Leaders” program in an interview: “It is clear that parents should think twice about vaccinating their child,” adding that serious adverse events can occur and can be “so severe that it puts your child in the hospital.”