News & Events

Paterson Suspends Flu Vaccination Rule

By Sewell Chan AND Anemona Hartocollis

Under pressure, the Paterson administration on Thursday evening backed away from a health regulation that would compel hundreds of thousands of health care workers and hospital volunteers to be vaccinated for seasonal and swine flu.

Claudia Hutton, a spokeswoman for the State Health Department, said in an interview on Thursday night, “Since the vaccine is so scarce right now and since the virus has proved especially difficult for pregnant women and young people — there have been deaths — we felt that the best use of the scarce amount of vaccine right now is for those populations.”

In August, the state health commissioner, Dr. Richard F. Daines issued a regulation ordering health care workers to be vaccinated by Nov. 30 or face fines. But last week, a judge in Albany halted enforcement of the rule in response to a lawsuit filed by three nurses who asserted that the requirement violated their civil rights.

However, Gov. David A. Paterson insisted that its reversal was unrelated to the lawsuit or the temporary restraining order issued by the judge.

Instead, the governor pointed to a statement by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which said that only about 23 percent of the anticipated vaccine supply would be available by month’s end. “As a result, we need to be as resourceful as we can with the limited supplies of vaccine currently coming into thesState and make sure that those who are at the highest risk for complications from the H1N1 flu receive the first vaccine being distributed right now in New York State,” Mr. Paterson said in a statement. (New York is estimated to receive 6 percent to 7 percent of the national vaccine supply, based on its population.)

Terence L. Kindlon, a lawyer for the three nurses, said on Thursday evening, “This is a good result, because the decision whether or not to be vaccinated is one that should be made by the individual. That’s all we ever wanted to establish here: the right to make that choice.”