The worst of the pandemic seemed to be behind us when COVID vaccines were first introduced in the U.S. But over the past year, the battle against the disease has continued. A new, fast-spreading variant hit the country at the same time vaccination rates slowed, causing COVID cases, hospitalizations, and deaths to skyrocket back up over the summer. As a result, many U.S. officials have introduced COVID vaccine mandates to help keep citizens safe. In several major cities, including New York City, proof of vaccination is required just to enter most indoor spaces, and various companies have started to require vaccinations for employees, aided by orders from President Joe Biden. Soon, a new vaccine policy will affect hundreds of thousands of people, and it goes into effect in just a few days.
On Oct. 20, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a new, sweeping vaccine mandate that covers all city workers. According to the order, approximately 160,500 city employees will be required to have proof of at least one COVID vaccine dose by Oct. 29. After this deadline, any employees who haven't gotten one dose or more will be placed on unpaid leave until they provide proof of vaccination to their supervisor.
"Our public employees are going to lead us out of the COVID era," de Blasio said during an Oct. 20 interview on MSNBC's Morning Joe.
This is not the first vaccine mandate enacted in New York City, however. Previously, vaccination requirements were issued statewide for healthcare workers, which went into effect in late September, and citywide for teachers and other staff at New York City public schools, which went into effect in early October.
"We have led the way against COVID-19—from fighting for the right to vaccinate frontline workers, to providing nation-leading incentives, to creating the Key to NYC mandate. As we continue our recovery for all of us, city workers have been a daily inspiration. Now is the time for them to show their city the path out of this pandemic once and for all," de Blasio said in a statement.
According to The New York Times, this new mandate will cover the nation's largest municipal workforce and be one of the strictest in the country. Other officials have already enacted similar orders. In Massachusetts, Oregon, and Washington, state employees were required to be fully vaccinated as of Oct. 18. As of Nov. 1, any New York City worker, including police officers, firefighters, and sanitation workers, who have not received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine or have an approved exemption will not be able to return to work.
There is a perk for individuals who do seek out vaccinations during this time. Any city worker who gets their first dose at a city-run vaccination site between now and Oct. 29 will receive an extra $500 in their paycheck. Though, according to the mayor's notice, 71 percent of city workers affected by the new mandate have already received at least one COVID vaccine dose.
But as de Blasio told MSNBC, there are about 46,000 city employees still not vaccinated. The lowest vaccination rates are among police and firefighters, who will be covered by this newest mandate. By the end of September, only 68 percent of the New York City Police Department (NYPD) and around 65 percent of the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) were vaccinated, per NBC New York.
"Vaccinations are critical to combatting the COVID-19 pandemic. This mandate is a bold step that protects our families, friends, and communities, including those that are not yet eligible for the vaccine such as our City's youngest residents. It builds on our continued leadership and innovative strategies to fighting this pandemic and bring us a step closer to a recovery for all," Melanie Hartzog, the deputy mayor for Health and Human Services, said in a statement.