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Religious exemption halted for Gov. Hochul's vaccine mandate for health care workers

On Friday, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the Hochul administration's healthcare worker COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

On Friday, a federal appellate court overturned a previous ruling that prevented New York from barring people who sought a religious exemption for its COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers.

The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the mandate announced at the beginning of Gov. Kathy Hochul's administration. Hochul has been vocal about not allowing a religious exemption to the mandate for health care workers.

Hochul said in a statement Friday, "on Day One, I pledged as Governor to battle this pandemic and take bold action to protect the health of all New Yorkers. I commend the Second Circuit's findings affirming our first-in-the-nation vaccine mandate, and I will continue to do everything in my power to keep New Yorkers safe."

The Second Circuit Court ruling vacates both a Sept. 30 injunction from the Eastern District of New York which granted a temporary allowance for religious exemptions, as well as an Oct. 12 Northern District of New York ruling on the same issue from different plaintiffs.

The Northern and Eastern Districts have been directed to further litigate the cases, which means this is not the final ruling. It is, however, the ruling that healthcare workers will have to abide by until those cases play out. 2 On Your Side Legal Analyst Barry Covert said that could take a few months, a year, or longer.

In the meantime, hospitals with not be able to keep staff who aren't vaccinated and Covert says employers won't really have a choice but to follow the state mandate and not hire or let go of people who aren't vaccinated and won't get their shot.

It also sends a different message Covert adds.

"That [the Second Circuit Court] doesn't believe there is a likelihood of success for those that want the religious exemption so it's not a final decision on that issue but they've reviewed this issue and at least made a preliminary determination that there is not a 'likelihood of success' on the merits," said Covert.

The plaintiffs in these cases will have to weigh that fact when pursuing their argument, that restricting religious exemptions for the COVID-19 vaccine infringe on healthcare workers' rights.

It's unclear how many healthcare workers in Western New York have requested a religious exemption but 2 On Your Side plans to reach out to local healthcare providers to gauge the impact.

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