The New York Health Department has suspended its requirement that health care workers receive vaccinations for the H1N1 virus and the seasonal flu, New York Gov. David A. Paterson, D, announced Oct. 22. Paterson said in a release that, because of the vaccine’s scarcity, the limited amounts currently available should be reserved for “those who are at the highest risk for complications from the H1N1 flu”—pregnant women and children and young adults.
“Over the last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) acknowledged that New York would only receive approximately 23 percent of its anticipated vaccine supply by the end of the month,” Paterson noted. “As a result, we need to be as resourceful as we can with the limited supplies of vaccine currently coming into the state.”
On Oct. 16, a state trial court temporarily prevented the state from requiring the mandatory vaccinations, issuing injunctions in suits filed by health care workers and two unions, challenging the mandate. Under emergency health department regulations promulgated in August, most health care workers were required to receive the vaccines for seasonal flu and H1N1 by Nov. 30.
Dr. Richard F. Daines, the state health commissioner, said all workers could not be vaccinated by the target date because vaccine supplies are arriving at a slower rate and in smaller amounts than originally projected.
“We had told hospitals that if they had to choose between vaccinating patients or employees to vaccinate patients first,” Daines said. “This week, the CDC confirmed that most of the national supply of seasonal flu vaccine has been distributed, and that H1N1 vaccine distribution is far behind projections. New evidence is showing that H1N1 can be especially virulent to pregnant women and young people—so they should get vaccinated first.”
A provision in the regulations permits the health commissioner to suspend the mandatory vaccine requirements if vaccine supplies are inadequate.
Joanne Deschenaux is SHRM’s senior legal editor.