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New York Mandate Podcast
New York Mandate Podcast, Ep. 27: Special Education Teacher Vanessa

New York Mandate Podcast, Ep. 27: Special Education Teacher Vanessa

“They lie”: A conversation with Vanessa, a teacher who left New York after battling 9/11-related cancer and being removed from the classroom when she received a medical exemption to the vax mandate.

“I'm a 9/11 survivor, so I had a 9/11-related cancer. So I wasn't really prone to being like, ‘Oh yeah, they lied about the air being clean, so let me just run out and take this experimental shot because, you know, we have a great track record with you telling me the truth.’ . . . That would be like, you know, fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” - Vanessa

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In this episode of the New York Mandate Podcast, I talk with Vanessa, a special education teacher who had been working in New York City public schools for 10 years when the pandemic began in early 2020. Around the same time, she was diagnosed with a 9/11-related cancer.

Vanessa taught from home during her cancer treatment and then received a medical exemption to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for Department of Education employees. She was removed from the classroom and reassigned to an administrative job, along with other DOE employees who had exemptions.

Rather than continue to do administrative work or face the possibility of her exemption being revoked, Vanessa moved to Florida in July 2022 and took a new teaching job there.

Vanessa talked with me about how the government’s handling of 9/11 and the pandemic informed her views on the vaccine, how pandemic policies affected her cancer treatment, and what happened when she was taken out of the classroom.

We also talked about how the kids she taught were affected and what the move to Florida has been like for her as a fifth-generation New Yorker.

If you think it’s important for people to hear Vanessa’s story, please share it! You can help build a public conversation about vaccine mandates by sharing the New York Mandate Podcast.


Here are some links related to things we talked about during the episode:

EPA Misleads on Air Quality After 9/11 Attacks
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and White House Council on Environmental Quality were found to have misled the public about whether the air was safe to breathe during the period after the 9/11 World Trade Center collapse in 2001. Public officials reassured the public that it was safe to return to the area in press statements such as this one by then EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman:

James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010
This act established the World Trade Center Health Program and provides for health monitoring and treatment of individuals who were exposed to airborne toxins as a result of the World Trade Center collapse on September 11, 2001.

The act is named after WTC rescue and recovery worker James Zadroga, who died of respiratory disease attributed to his airborne toxin exposure. At least 3,311 people have died as a result of 9/11-related illnesses.

New York State Assembly Bill A8398
This bill currently in committee seeks to limit exemptions from immunization requirements by local governments and private entities to medical exemptions and repeal religious exemptions for certain post-secondary students.

New York State Assembly Bill A7139
This bill currently in committee seeks to require the Department of Health to approve medical exemptions from immunization requirements.

“Key to NYC” Vaccination Mandate Executive Order
The “Key to NYC” mandate required both employees and patrons of restaurants, entertainment venues, and gyms to show proof of vaccination. It began on August 17, 2021, and was lifted on March 7, 2022.

Announcement of NYC Department of Education Employee Vaccine Mandate
This is the August 23, 2021, announcement of the vaccine mandate for New York City Department of Education employees by then Mayor Bill de Blasio, Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter and Health Commissioner Dave Chokshi.

About the New York Mandate Podcast

The New York Mandate Podcast is an ongoing series of conversations exploring the costs and consequences of vaccine mandates in New York City. I talk with workers who have been directly affected by the mandates, as well as legal and policy experts.

In late 2021, the City introduced a series of requirements for workers to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. These requirements were put in place through executive orders issued by the administration of former mayor Bill de Blasio. They covered nearly all workers in New York City, in both the public and private sectors.

Current mayor Eric Adams continues to support vaccine mandates, which currently cover all City employees. The Adams administration made the private-sector vaccine mandate optional on November 1, 2022, and is now encouraging employers to put their own vaccine requirements in place.

The views expressed in the New York Mandate podcast are the personal opinions of the people speaking, and are not intended to provide medical or legal advice.

Join the Conversation

Have you lost your job, been put on leave, or lost opportunities to work as an independent contractor as a result of your decision not to comply with a New York vaccine mandate? Did you take a vaccine against your wishes in order to keep your job? Please get in touch with me at

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No One You Know
New York Mandate Podcast
Conversations with New Yorkers who are bearing the costs and consequences of New York's COVID-19 vaccine mandates.