The Police Benevolent Association (PBA) made good Monday on its previous threats to sue the city government in an effort to stop a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for the NYPD.
The union representing some 55,000 active and retired NYPD officers filed a lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court on Staten Island on Oct. 25, charging that the mandate slated to take effect at the end of this week violates the officers’ “right to bodily integrity” — inferring that it is each officer’s individual choice whether to get the life-saving shot.
“We will also be filing a request for a temporary restraining order asking the court to bar the City and the NYPD from implementing the mandate while our suit is pending,” PBA President Patrick Lynch added in a statement to union members.
As Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered last week, all NYPD members and other municipal employees must get at least the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine before 5 p.m. on Oct. 28. Failure to do so, the mayor warned, would result in unvaccinated employees being sent home without pay until they comply with the order.
The latest reports indicated that about 70% of the NYPD force has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Since the pandemic began, more than 60 NYPD members have died of COVID-19; at one point during the height of the crisis in March/April 2020, some 20% of the entire NYPD force wound up on sick leave because of the illness.
Though unvaccinated individuals continue to face a higher risk of infection or re-infection today, the PBA claimed in its lawsuit that enough of its officers had developed a “natural immunity” to COVID-19 because of their prior illness. But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it remains unclear how lasting natural immunity can sustain — and they recommend that all individuals be vaccinated for COVID-19, regardless of prior infection, to ensure they have the proper defense to stop the virus in its tracks.
The PBA also claims in its lawsuit that the current “vax-or-test” policy, which the city implemented in September, is effective in controlling infection rates within the NYPD and across the city.
“The Vaccine Mandate is shocking to the conscience because it affects not only the right to bodily integrity, but police officers’ right to pursue their employment, for which they have undergone substantial training and personal sacrifice, and for which they have a long-standing expectation that forced inoculation would not be imposed as a condition to continued employment,” the PBA charged in its lawsuit, claiming that the mandate violates the Due Process Clause in the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. “The Vaccine Mandate in fact does not afford police officers a valid option to decline, because police officers must either forego their constitutional right to bodily integrity by taking the unwanted vaccine, or they must forego their constitutional right to pursue their chosen occupation.”
The PBA further claimed that the mandate wasn’t necessary for NYPD officers because they spend much of their time out in the field, rather than indoors — and that the risk of infection for officers is lower because many members of the public, with whom they interact, have been vaccinated.
However, the suit does not acknowledge the risk an individual member of the public may face from exposure to an unknowingly infected officer; vaccinated individuals are still at risk of contracting COVID-19, though getting the vaccine significantly improves their chances of avoiding a debilitating or even fatal illness.
A spokesperson for the city’s Law Department expressed confidence that the PBA’s lawsuit would be unsuccessful.
“Every effort to stop the City’s vaccine mandates has failed in court, and we believe this suit by the PBA will meet the same fate. The City’s vaccine mandates are lawful and keep New Yorkers safe. We’ll review the case,” the spokesperson said.
Earlier on Monday, de Blasio reiterated that the city isn’t budging on the mandate scheduled to take effect Friday — and warned that those who don’t comply will face the consequences.
“The vast majority of people have decided this is the right thing to do,” de Blasio said, pointing out that 85% of New Yorkers have had at least the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. “And the vast majority New Yorkers have supported these mandates. But there’s still a lot of misinformation. Some people are being swayed by it. We’re going to be really clear and consistent, just like we did with health workers, just like we did with education employees, you have until Friday at five o’clock. If you choose not to get vaccinated, you go on leave without pay. We move forward from there.”