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New York’s Vaccine Mandates Saved Lives, Departing Health Boss Says

A: We always have to strike a balance. There is, on the one hand, still the imperative to take Covid very seriously. This wave of Covid may be ebbing, but that does not mean that the pandemic is ending. So we have to make sure that we’re not throwing the baby out with the bath water in terms of keeping the things that have helped to protect us, particularly the mandates that you’ve referred to, which New York City has been leading the nation in: the public sector mandate, as well as the private sector mandate.

On the other hand, we have to recognize that things have shifted in a real way. Our transmission level is lower than it has been in many months, and it’s below the threshold that the C.D.C. previously considered the boundary between substantial and moderate transmission. So those are real gains. And when we put everything together, we have to recognize that people are embracing a new phase of the pandemic. And our responsibility is to ensure that we continue to protect people even as we recognize that people will be doing things differently because the overall risk is lower.

Q: It sounds like Mayor Eric Adams is very much open to a Covid-19 vaccination requirement in September for public school students, and some elected officials have called for that. Do you think that’s something the mayor should consider?

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A: Yes, it certainly warrants serious consideration. It has to be done methodically and thoughtfully in a way that recognizes that so many parents and families still need to have conversations with people whom they trust, whether it’s pediatricians or otherwise, in order to get to a place where they feel more comfortable vaccinating their child. But the benefits of childhood immunization are unequivocal. We have vaccine requirements for so many other pediatric vaccinations.

Q: Some people with disabilities or those who are immunocompromised feel like they’re getting left behind. What would you say to those who feel like it’s not back to normal for them yet?

A: Well, I understand, and I empathize. This is something that I’m hearing from many of my own patients as well. That it feels like the rest of the world is sort of moving on, even as their risk remains very real. And this is something that we need to elevate as part of our discourse and have the ability to speak to the nuances that everyone’s risk level is different.

From that perspective, it means that all of society needs to be comfortable, for example, with people who will continue wearing masks, even when they are optional. And then from a policy or governmental perspective, we have to center people with disabilities, people who are immunocompromised, people who are at higher risk for a variety of other reasons, including marginalization, and make sure that our policies are responsive to their lived experience.

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Q: What’s next for you?

A: I’m planning to take care of some of the things that are dearest to me, and that I haven’t had as much time for over the past two years as I would have liked. So, for instance, pickups and drop-offs and field trips with my little daughter, and I have a few hundred dinners that I owe and have to cook for my wife, given how much she has supported me during this tenure. I will also continue taking care of my patients at Bellevue Hospital, and I’ll be doing some writing and teaching as well.

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