The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday denied a request to block a vaccine mandate for New York healthcare workers.
The petitioners argued that the lack of a religious exemption in the mandate infringed on the First Amendment. The court did not give an explanation for its decision in its unsigned order.
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Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, and Samuel Alito said the high court should have granted the injunction the petitioners requested. Gorsuch gave a dissent in the court's denial and was joined by Alito.
"These applicants are not 'anti-vaxxers' who object to all vaccines," Gorsuch said. "Instead, the applicants explain, they cannot receive a COVID–19 vaccine because their religion teaches them to oppose abortion in any form, and because each of the currently available vaccines has depended upon abortion-derived fetal cell lines in its production or testing."
The plaintiffs argue they have a sincere religious conviction that "they cannot consent to be inoculated, 'continuously' or otherwise, with vaccines that were tested, developed or produced with fetal cell lines derived from procured abortions."
Development of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines relied on a test using HEK-293, an immortalized cell line that came from a fetus in the 1970s, to confirm their efficacy in humans. The vaccines do not contain HEK-293, and it is unclear if the fetus was aborted. Johnson and Johnson used PER.C6, a different immortalized cell line that came from an aborted fetus from the 1980s, to manufacture its vaccines. Its vaccine does not contain PER.C6.
The Vatican notably came out in support of the COVID-19 vaccines despite these concerns.
This was not the first time the Supreme Court rejected a request to block a vaccine mandate. In October, the court declined to block a vaccine mandate for healthcare workers in Maine. It also declined to block Indiana University from implementing a vaccine mandate for members of the institution.
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New York introduced its vaccine mandate for healthcare workers while Andrew Cuomo was still governor in August. His successor, Kathy Hochul, preserved the mandate. It gave workers until Nov. 22 to receive at least one dose of the vaccine to continue working. It also granted a medical exemption but not a religious one.
Hochul recently implemented a new mandate for businesses requiring that they mandate either masks or proof of vaccination.