With their vaccination deadlines fast approaching, some Long Islanders said they are willing to lose their jobs and even change careers before complying with workplace mandates.
For some, resistance to getting a vaccine stems from a concern over potential health impacts or side effects. Others said it’s a matter of personal choice, and mandates make them feel even less inclined to get the shot.
Rob Herbst of Farmingdale, a physical education teacher at a Queens elementary school, said his bosses told him a few weeks ago that if he didn't receive at least one dose by the city's Sept. 27 deadline, he would be placed on unpaid administrative leave.
'I have no intention of getting it.'
Rob Herbst, 42, of Farmingdale
Occupation: Physical education teacher at a Queens elementary school
The mandate: His bosses told him if he didn't receive at least one shot by the city's Sept. 27 deadline, he would be placed on unpaid administrative leave.
His plan: He's appealing the denial of his religious exemption, and a Manhattan Supreme Court judge has temporarily blocked the mandate in response to a lawsuit brought by municipal unions.
Credit: Reece T. Williams
While he stands to lose a nearly 20-year career, he said it doesn’t change his mind.
"I have no intention of getting it," said Herbst, 42, who has worked at the same school for 17 years and been an educator for 19. "From what I understand [from the teachers' union], we can take a year leave without pay but keep health benefits."
If it comes down to it, Herbst said he and his wife, who works in special education on the Island and is also unvaccinated, are willing to leave the state in search of work that won't require vaccination. He works a part-time job in event and party planning and said he's already looked at potential education jobs in Florida with his wife, where his event planning gig also has an office.
But a Manhattan Supreme Court judge's decision Tuesday night may buy time for Herbst and other city teachers who refuse the vaccine. Judge Laurence L. Love temporarily blocked the mandate in response to a lawsuit brought by municipal unions, and set a Sept. 22 court date to hear arguments. "Hopefully things will change" as a result of the court challenge, Herbst said.
In an interview last week, he explained his objection to taking the vaccine — and having his three sons, ages 10, 12 and 17, get it, as well. "It’s not that I’m against vaccines, but I’m for having the choice of whether I want to put something in my body or not," he said. "They rolled this vaccine out so quickly and there’s no long-term testing on it."
On Tuesday, a federal judge in Utica issued a temporary restraining order requiring the state to allow for religious exemptions to its health care worker mandate.
On Wednesday, Herbst filed for a religious exemption; it was denied on Friday and he is appealing, he said. The union said teachers granted religious exemptions would be placed in nonteaching roles and be paid, he said Saturday.
Herbst, who said he was raised Catholic, said he's seeking an exemption on the grounds that he believes the vaccines contain fetal cells, something he said he does not agree with putting in his body.
None of the vaccines contains fetal cells, although the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was developed using clones of cell lines created decades ago using fetal tissue, according to the New York City Department of Health. Pope Francis has urged Catholics to get vaccinated, and some Catholic dioceses, including the Diocese of Rockville Centre, have advised parishioners to take the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines rather than the Johnson & Johnson one.
Franklin Square resident Nicole Sorace initially told Newsday that she would give up her job rather than get the vaccine because the speedy rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines made her worried about side effects. She also said the development of the shots has been "too politically driven."
'I had residents who were like near tears, thinking I was going to leave.'
Nicole Sorace, 41, of Franklin Square
Occupation: Event coordinator at Maple Pointe Assisted Living in Rockville Centre
The mandate: Management said if she didn't have her first shot by Oct. 7, she would “effectively have resigned.”
Her plan: After initially resisting, she's since received one dose of Moderna, but said she felt so ill afterward she won't get the second shot.
Credit: Danielle Silverman
Sorace, 41, who works as an event coordinator at Maple Pointe Assisted Living in Rockville Centre, later said she decided to get the vaccine because "I had residents who were like near tears, thinking I was going to leave."
She said she felt so ill after her first dose of the Moderna vaccine that she will not take the second shot.
Sorace said she is unsure how that will affect her employment. Her supervisor is checking with the corporate office to determine her future employment status, she said Friday night.
Several other Long Islanders contacted for this story who said they would refuse vaccines said they were not willing to be identified for fear of repercussions affecting their careers.
In addition to mandates affecting federal, state and city employees, some private employers on Long Island have begun implementing vaccination requirements.
Labor and employment attorney Domenique Camacho Moran at law firm Farrell Fritz in Uniondale said some clients have begun the process of firing employees for not meeting a vaccine deadline.
"I had a client who started the process on August 1st and by September 1st employees had to have their first shot," she said. "There were, I believe, two employees of this employer who were going to be terminated. I have other clients who are in the process."
Thousands more private sector employees on Long Island will face a mandate to be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing for COVID-19 under a directive issued last week by President Joe Biden. He directed the Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration to draft rules requiring businesses nationwide with 100 or more employees to implement the requirement.
Jessica Baquet, chair of the labor and employment law group at Jaspan Schlesinger in Garden City, said many questions remain on how the national mandate will be implemented.
One major concern for employers, she said, is the challenge of tracking regular weekly COVID testing of employees who choose not to get vaccinated.
"I personally think that the administrative burden of the testing every week is much higher than just telling people they need to get vaccinated," Baquet said.
The number of businesses that fall under the guideline is relatively low given the region’s small-business based economy. In 2019, the Island had 97,150 establishments with fewer than 100 workers, compared with 1,697 firms with 100 or more, according to the latest U.S. census data available.
With Tory N. Parrish