I appreciate this coverage from Randi Marshall of NEWSDAY – mk:
While crime, bail reform and public safety continue to take center stage in Lee Zeldin’s gubernatorial campaign, another hot button issue has begun to move into the spotlight: “medical freedom.”
The term is a spin on the effort to oppose vaccine mandates — those for COVID-19, and more broadly for many of the commonly accepted ones. The drumbeat began in earnest late last month, when there was talk that Gov. Kathy Hochul had told a group of New York City Department of Education officials that she would mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for schoolchildren after the November election.
While it’s unclear exactly what Hochul said to the group, the governor can’t mandate the vaccine on her own, and has correctly noted that any such shift in vaccine requirements would need legislative approval. But she also has said that she supports the idea of mandating the COVID-19 vaccine for the state’s students.
Zeldin, however, has made it clear he would get rid of any COVID-19-related vaccine mandates if he became governor, and wouldn’t institute any new ones.
In a tweet late last month, Zeldin made his position clear — much to the delight of those who oppose vaccine mandates.
“This is a personal decision and I respect medical freedom,” Zeldin wrote.
He echoed that position during a rally of about 200 people Wednesday night in Brooklyn. The event was promoted by and included anti-mandate groups including Teachers for Choice, an organization founded by Michael Kane, a former New York City teacher who was fired after refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Freedom is the opportunity for you to decide whether or not you want to get the COVID vaccine,” Zeldin said. “If you want to get it, get it. If you don’t want to get it, don’t get it. Don’t get it because the governor of the state of New York called on you to be her apostle.”
That position is enough for many advocates.
“The medical freedom movement is getting behind [Zeldin’s] campaign,” Kane told the Point before Wednesday’s event, noting that this year would mark the first time he ever voted Republican. “He’s made a number of really firm stances and promises that are light years away from Gov. Hochul.”
While Zeldin’s remarks didn’t go far beyond a specific focus on the COVID-19 vaccine, anti-mandate advocates are hoping he will take an even broader stance, one that would include support of the concept of “informed consent” — which, in practice, could allow anyone to opt out of any vaccine requirement after being provided information about immunization.
Zeldin hasn’t committed to supporting the idea. But Kane said he’s hopeful a Zeldin administration would be supportive.
“They’re extremely receptive,” Kane said.
During the primary, the “medical freedom” community was divided, as some supported Andrew Giuliani, who was the only candidate who was not vaccinated against COVID-19. But Kane noted that even Giuliani supporters were now galvanizing behind Zeldin — and that Republicans were beginning to realize there was another key issue on which many voters were focused.
“The Republicans are really running on crime and inflation,” Kane said. “But there is another group of single-issue voters … and we are going to be continuing our conversation with Republicans about how they’re doing great with the mandate issue and probably need to do even better.”
— Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall
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