Credit: SDI Productions/Getty Images

A federal judge has affirmed an order requiring New York to allow religious exemptions to its COVID-19 vaccine mandate after a group of healthcare workers sued the state over the omission. 

The ruling was handed down Tuesday by U.S. District Judge David Hurd, who granted a preliminary injunction that bars the state’s Department of Health from interfering with the granting of religious exemptions from COVID-19 vaccination going forward. 

“The Department of Health is barred from taking any action, disciplinary or otherwise, against the licensure, certification, residency, admitting privileges or other professional status or qualification of any of the plaintiffs on account of their seeking or having obtained a religious exemption from mandatory COVID-19 vaccination,” Hurd wrote. 

The move will likely increase the use of religious vaccination exemptions and could pave the way for New York nursing home employees that were terminated or placed on leave because of the state’s strict healthcare worker mandate that went into effect in late September.

The use of religious exemptions has significantly increased across the country with it becoming a popular loophole for employees to get around the mandates.

It is uncertain whether a federal mandate for healthcare workers will also include a religious exemption. Questions about grounds for religious exemptions abound, with few organized religions encouraging their members to avoid COVID-19 vaccines.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) said she plans to fight the decision and still stands behind the original mandate with no religious exemption. 

“My responsibility as governor is to protect the people of this state, and requiring healthcare workers to get vaccinated accomplishes that,” she said in a statement.