A panel at the state Department of Health on Tuesday formally adopted the mandate for health care workers to receive booster shots of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

The move comes after Gov. Kathy Hochul last week backed the new requirement and months after state officials required all health care workers to be vaccinated as well. 

"Those who are unvaccinated have over 10 times the risk of being hospitalized with COVID-19 compared with vaccinated individuals," the Public Health and Health Planning Council wrote in its justification of adopting the requirement. "Recent data show that booster doses of the COVID-19 vaccine offer more protection against the Omicron variant compared with the primary series alone."

COVID-19 cases have skyrocketed to record levels amid the spread of the more contagious omicron variant in the last six weeks. Hospitalizations either because of COVID-19 or patients testing positive upon admission have also sharply increased to more than 12,000 people in New York. 

The Public Employees Federation, meanwhile, urged New York officials to consider alternatives to returning to workplaces rather than to broaden vaccine madates to other sectors of the workforce. 

"New York State is inexplicably insisting on a mad dash to force workers into the workplace during the worst winter surge of the COVID pandemic," said Wayne Spence, the union's president. "By the State's own reports, this is the worst spread of infection we have seen at any time during this pandemic, and health experts predict this surge has not peaked yet. Rather than allow its workforce to protect themselves, their families and the public from this surge by telecommuting as they did during previous surges, the State ignores this simple and effective strategy and, instead, chooses to broaden vaccine mandates, requires workers to wear masks all day at their desks, wastes its limited supply of COVID tests and now forces another dose of the vaccine upon its strained workforce."

Spence urged state officials to put in place a "robust" telecommuting program for state workers as well as provide N95 or KN95 grade masks to employees who must work in person. 

Hochul on Tuesday at a news conference in New York City said more time is needed to determine whether an indoor mask mandate will continue statewide, adding she wants businesses to remain open while at the same time keeping public health measures in place. 

"There's no textbook for dealing with omicron," she said.