Covid-19 Updates: Judge Denies Police Union Bid to Block Vaccine Mandate for N.Y.C.

ImageAn New York police officer in Manhattan.
Credit…Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

A New York State judge on Wednesday denied a police union request to temporarily block the city’s tough new vaccine mandate, which requires most of the municipal work force to receive a first shot by 5 p.m. on Friday or face unpaid leave.

A lawsuit filed Monday by the Police Benevolent Association was the latest legal challenge to fail to gain traction in court as Mayor Bill de Blasio pushes ahead with one of the most aggressive municipal vaccination campaigns in the nation.

While most of the city’s 300,000 workers have already been vaccinated, about 46,000 had not been as of last week. The highest percentage of unvaccinated employees was in the city’s Department of Corrections, where only half of workers had been vaccinated.

More than a quarter of employees in some of the city’s other crucial departments — emergency medical services, fire, police and sanitation — remained unvaccinated as of last week.

Workers who do not show proof of vaccination by 5 p.m. on Friday will be put on unpaid leave as of Monday. Requests for medical or religious exemptions were due on Wednesday, and workers who have applied for those exemptions will be permitted to work with weekly testing while their cases are considered.

Because of a severe staffing shortage on Rikers Island, the city has made an exception for uniformed corrections officers, giving them until Dec. 1 to get their first dose. The city’s health care workers and education department employees were already required to be vaccinated under earlier mandates.

The Police Benevolent Association, which represents about 24,000 uniformed police officers, argued in court papers that the city’s mandate was arbitrary and unnecessary given that levels of the virus had been dropping under an earlier vaccine mandate that allowed unvaccinated workers to stay on the job with weekly tests.

But Judge Lizette Colon of Richmond County Supreme Court did not find their argument compelling enough to approve their request to stop the mandate from going into effect while the lawsuit goes forward. Both sides are due back in court Nov. 12.

“We’re pleased with this ruling, and remain confident this mandate is on solid legal ground,” the city’s Law Department said in a statement. “The city’s vaccine mandates make our workplaces safer, further public health and aid the city’s recovery.”

Patrick J. Lynch, the president of the police union, said the union would appeal the decision and predicted an impact on the city’s work force. Some of the holdouts against the mandate have been preparing for a showdown: On Monday, thousands of people including police officers, firefighters and sanitation workers marched across the Brooklyn Bridge, holding large American flags and chanting that they would not comply.

“Today’s ruling sets the city up for a real crisis,” Mr. Lynch said in a statement. “New Yorkers should know who to blame for any shortfall in city services: Mayor Bill de Blasio, Police Commissioner [Dermot] Shea and the other bureaucrats who are putting politics before public health and public safety.”

On Wednesday, Mr. de Blasio said the city had been preparing for the possibility of staff shortages and predicted that almost all workers would ultimately get vaccinated rather than lose their paychecks. Workers can return to work once they are vaccinated, and how long they can stay on unpaid leave has yet to be determined.

“These are agencies that have been preparing for months,” Mr. de Blasio said at a news conference on Wednesday. “Every one of the commissioners has been absolutely confident that they can make the adjustments and every one of the commissioners has adamantly wanted us to move forward with a vaccine mandate. So, I feel ready.”

Credit…Brook Mitchell/Getty Images

The health minister of Australia announced on Wednesday that fully vaccinated residents would finally be allowed to travel abroad starting on Nov. 1, a year and a half after borders were closed to most ingoing and outgoing travel.

“Fully vaccinated Australians will not require an exemption to depart Australia,” Greg Hunt, the country’s health minister, told reporters in Canberra. He added that they would also be able to return without restrictions.

The eased restrictions will be the first stage in Australia’s plan to reopen its international borders since slamming them shut on March 20, 2020, separating families and leaving thousands of Australians stranded overseas.

The second stage, Mr. Hunt said, will allow students and critical workers to enter the country and, eventually, see borders fully reopened to tourists and other visitors.

“It’s exciting,” said Kelsey May, 25, an Australian who returned home from Britain in March of 2020, and has been separated from her partner since. But, Ms. May added: “We’ve been told so many things over the past 18 months that haven’t come to fruition. We just want to see what happens.”

On Monday, the health authorities also approved Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine booster shots for those 18 and older. They said the decision would make the country among the most highly vaccinated places in the world.

Nationwide, 62 percent of eligible Australians have had two doses of the vaccine, and 74 percent have had one dose.

But Canberra, the capital, announced it had become the first jurisdiction in the country to fully vaccinate more than 90 percent of eligible residents age 12 and older.

Credit…Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

A large clinical trial has found that a common and inexpensive antidepressant lowered the odds that high-risk Covid-19 patients would be hospitalized. The results, published on Wednesday, could open the door to new guidelines for the drug’s use both in the United States and globally.

The drug, fluvoxamine, has been safely prescribed for nearly 30 years as a treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder. But when the coronavirus started spreading, researchers were drawn to the medication because of its ability to reduce inflammation, potentially allowing it to quell the body’s overwhelming response to a coronavirus infection.

Several smaller studies of fluvoxamine earlier in the pandemic showed promising results, but none was as large or persuasive as the one published on Wednesday by a group of researchers in Canada, the United States and Brazil, outside scientists said. Among nearly 1,500 Covid patients in Brazil given either fluvoxamine or a placebo, the drug reduced the need for hospitalization or prolonged medical observation by one-third, the study found. It was published in The Lancet Global Health.

Some patients struggled to tolerate the drug and stopped taking it, the study said, raising a question among outside scientists about whether they had yet identified the ideal dose. But among those who had largely followed doctors’ orders, the benefits were even more striking. In those patients, the drug reduced the need for hospitalization by two-thirds and slashed the risk of dying: One Covid patient given fluvoxamine died, compared with 12 given a placebo.

“That’s really good,” said Dr. David Boulware, an infectious disease scientist at the University of Minnesota who worked on a smaller, real-world study of the drug in Covid patients in California. Plus, he added, “it’s not a shiny new, expensive drug. The nice thing about this is it has a known safety profile.”

Beyond proper dosing, the study left other questions unresolved, scientists said. Penny Ward, a visiting professor in pharmaceutical medicine at King’s College London, noted that part of the drug’s benefit appeared to come from reducing the need for extended medical observation, which the study tracked alongside hospital admissions. And most patients in the study were unvaccinated, Professor Ward said, so it’s unclear how well the drug would work in the vaccinated.

The new study, coming nearly a year after smaller trials of the drug, was a reminder of the difficulty that many researchers have had running large tests of Covid treatments. The Biden administration has made more funding available for such trials, scientists said, but enrolling enough patients has only gotten more difficult: Most high-risk Americans are vaccinated, and vaccine-averse…

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