“I’m fully vaccinated for everything else. My children are vaccinated,” she said. “I’m not an anti-vaxxer. If I didn’t believe in vaccines, I wouldn’t be in a position administering vaccines.”
Adverse reactions with the mRNA vaccines are extremely rare — with serious allergic reactions happening only in five of every 1 million vaccine doses administered. That would be about 1,200 people out of 240 million Americans who’ve taken at least one dose of Pfizer or Moderna. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine would normally be recommended as an alternative in this scenario, but as a woman between the age of 18 and 49, Labarbera-Limone has a higher risk of the rare blood clots associated with that vaccine. Labarbera-Limone’s lawyer says she declined getting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as an alternative, given she has a history of stroke.
Mayor Eric Adams, who has taken heat for easing vaccination requirements for professional athletes and performers while keeping them in place for municipal staff, said in February he’s open to considering natural immunity in his public health calculations, but his health advisors rejected that idea.
“I need to find out if this is a viable option. And if it is a viable option, we need to revisit it,” the mayor said during the winter. City Hall’s press office had no update on his statement.
Health experts interviewed for this story agree with the mayor’s medical advisors — that there is no point at which a regular infection could be used for an immunity passport. They say that there are far too many variables when it comes to natural immunity. The degree of protection and how long that protection lasts varies too widely among the population to be a reliable yardstick, experts say.
The omicron variant, meanwhile, has steadily moved through the New York population this winter and spring, causing record numbers of infections — and reinfections — as COVID restrictions disappear. This moment is a crossroads for partially vaccinated workers like Labarbera-Limone, or even unvaccinated people with a history of past infection. Some can’t work in person without all their shots, even though many vaccine and mask requirements in the city and state are no longer in place and the coronavirus is spreading mostly unchecked.
Currently, 97% of the municipal workforce is vaccinated. There have been 12,142 requests for reasonable accommodation regarding the vaccine, according to the latest numbers from City Hall, which includes religious and medical exemptions. About 80% – 8,769 applications – have been denied. About 1,089 are still pending.
But all medical waivers are temporary, and health workers with these exemptions are not allowed to work with patients, according to Health + Hospitals.
Unable to fulfill her essential role providing direct patient care, Labarbera-Limone was allowed to stay employed temporarily by using her medical leave, but the city determined that she was no longer allowed to serve safely as a nurse.
“It is clear that protective measures alone are insufficient to permit [Labarbera-Limone] to continue in her role as a staff nurse providing direct patient care,” H+H lawyer Stephanie Siaw wrote in her answer to the Staten Island nurse’s complaint.