New York City said Monday it will require all private-sector workers to be vaccinated against the novel coronavirus starting later this month amid growing fear of spread of the Omicron variant, becoming the first U.S. city to announce such a blanket mandate for COVID-19 shots.
Calling the move a "preemptive strike" against the looming threat of Omicron amid cold weather and holiday gatherings, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the policy to be implemented Dec. 27 will affect some 184,000 businesses in a bid to avoid further lockdowns as occurred last year to prevent virus spread.
"Vaccination is the central weapon in this war against COVID," de Blasio said at a press conference. "It's the reason New York City is back in so many ways. And it's the reason we can avoid shutdowns and restrictions."
"We are not going back to what happened in 2020," he added.
New York City has already required all public workers to receive coronavirus vaccines and taken punitive measures such as leaves of absence for those who do not comply with the policy.
The largest U.S. city was one of the hardest-hit spots as the pandemic intensified in the country last year. It has reported a cumulative total of 1.17 million infection cases and over 30,000 deaths.
As legal grounds for making coronavirus vaccinations mandatory, de Blasio indicated that city health authorities have an obligation to protect the public.
"We believe the right way to approach this is a clear, strong standard for everyone," he said of the policy, which comes in response to a public health emergency and treats all industries equally.
He also suggested the city may impose penalties on workers who fail to receive shots.
Aided by a vigorous vaccine-promotion campaign by the federal government, the push for inoculation has resulted in a majority of eligible individuals in the U.S. population receiving COVID-19 shots, with some already taking booster shots to strengthen the efficacy.
Nonetheless, a portion of the population has remained unvaccinated by choice.