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The Editorial Board: Court rulings, Bills stadium crackdown give teeth to needed vaccine requirements

The Editorial Board: Court rulings, Bills stadium crackdown give teeth to needed vaccine requirements

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Buffalo Bills fans who refuse to get vaccinated are being turned away from Highmark Stadium in significant numbers. Meanwhile, court challenges to state vaccine mandates in New York and Maine that don’t allow for religious exemptions were turned back.

In both cases, the cause of trying to contain the coronavirus through vaccine requirements is holding up against those whose actions would only prolong the pandemic in the name of a false definition of “liberty.” That augurs well for new federal rules that kick in for private employers on Jan. 4. Its details were announced on Thursday.

The Bills’ home games are played outdoors, but any gathering of 60,000 people has the potential to become a superspreader event in the age of coronavirus. Erie County’s decision to require vaccination for attendees was smart. It served both public health and public safety.

Sanitarians from the county’s Health Department turned away 258 fans from last Sunday’s game against Miami because they could not document that they had been fully vaccinated. Fans entering the stadium are first screened at the gate by Bills’ staff members. There were 1,128 people referred to health sanitarians for secondary vetting.

Two previous Bills home games had required evidence of at least one inoculation; this was the first to require the full course. Coinciding with the new requirement, Erie County increased the number of sanitarians at the stadium from 20 to 34.

Health care workers in New York, meanwhile, were required by state mandate to receive at least one dose of Covid vaccine by Sept. 27 or risk being fired. The rule applies to hospitals and nursing homes. It allows medical exemptions but not ones for religion.

One problem with religious exemptions is their potential for abuse. On Sept. 14, U.S. District Judge David Hurd issued a restraining order that prevented the state from implementing a mandate that allowed no religious exemption. According to the state Health Department, more than 10,000 workers took advantage of Hurd’s order and received religious exemptions. Whether every one of those workers felt that getting a jab would violate their religious convictions is between them and their supreme being, but the numbers suggest that more than a few were free riders scooting through the loophole that Hurd allowed.

Last week, a federal appeals court overruled Hurd and allowed the state to exclude a religious exemption. An appeal has been filed with the U.S. Supreme Court, though one medical professional said it would likely fail.

“No major religious denomination opposes vaccinations, and the Supreme Court has for over 100 years upheld vaccination requirements to protect the public health,” Dr. Joseph Sellers, president of the Medical Society of the State of New York, said in a statement this week.

Vaccine resisters who hold anti-abortion views often state that the Covid-19 vaccines are produced using fetal tissue. That is a misstatement that even the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops rebuts.

First, cell lines – not cell tissue – was used to test the efficacy of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, but not in their development or production. Cell lines are lab-cloned cells that date back to two elective abortions that took place more than 40 years ago. Cell lines are commonly used in medical research, including in the development of vaccines against polio, chickenpox and shingles.

The conference of bishops released a document last January that said, “Neither Pfizer nor Moderna used an abortion-derived cell line in the development or production of the vaccine. However, such a cell line was used to test the efficacy of both vaccines.” New York’s Roman Catholic bishops also do not object to the shots.

When measles cases were spiking in 2019, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a law abolishing religious exemptions for vaccines in schools. It was a case of the state’s duty to protect the public trumping individual rights and it made our schools safer.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 29 declined to block the state of Maine’s vaccination mandate for health care workers, who objected to there being no religious exemption. The justices gave no reason for denying the request from nine health care workers and the issue will be litigated again in other cases from around the country.

Mandates invite pushback from a segment of the public but they get results. They are here to stay until enough residents get vaccinated so we can put the word “pandemic” back into the history books.

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