A suggestion by the chair of the City Council's Committee on Hospitals July 21 that Mayor de Blasio's just-announced plan to have municipal hospital workers and Health Department employees either be vaccinated or submit to weekly testing for the coronavirus starting Aug. 2 be applied to all city workers drew vociferous objections from several uniformed-union leaders.
Council Member Carlina Rivera, who is reportedly seeking to become Speaker next January, said of the new policy, "If this effort is successful, we should seriously look at similar rules and mandates for all municipal workers. "If health-care workers and CUNY students have to take serious precautions and ultimately be vaccinated, far more New Yorkers should be able to follow the same rules."
Unions: Don't Force Them
Several union leaders strenuously objected to their members being compelled to be vaccinated or endure weekly testing.
Detectives' Endowment Association President Paul DiGiacomo, who has lost seven members to the virus, the most-recent one in May, said his rank and file knew "all too well the dangers associated with the coronavirus," but "every Detective should have the right to choose whether or not they receive the vaccine. This is not about politics, but about the personal rights of our members to not be forced in any way into making a decision based on a risk of punishment by the city."
Oren Barzilay, president of Emergency Medical Service Local 2507 of District Council 37, which represents Emergency Medical Technicians, said Ms. Rodriguez's proposal amounted to "taking away our freedom of self-determination. No one should tell me or us what's good for us; it's nothing less than an invasive intrusion."
His colleague representing EMS officers, DC 37 Local 3621 President Vincent Variale, took a more-measured stance. Referring to the fact that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not yet given final approval to the vaccines, he said, "I am not for people being fired or forced to put something in their system that is still experimental, but if you choose not to be vaccinated, you have to take precautions including regular testing to ensure you don't pass on this deadly disease."
'We Deal With Sick People'
He continued, "We are health-care professionals, and we deal with sick people every day. What if we had a patient with a compromised immune system and we did not know it? That could end up killing them."
Several labor leaders said that their vaccine-leery members said that because they'd already had the virus they believed they retained enough antibodies to ward off another infection.
Uniformed Firefighters Association President Andy Ansbro, an early proponent of the FDNY vaccine program, said he would fight any move to make it compulsory. He noted that one Firefighter was recently in a hospital intensive-care unit with double-lung pneumonia as a result of the virus, but he had yet to see evidence showing seriousness illnesses for those who already had the disease.
"There may be a Delta variant infecting people a second time, but are they being hospitalized?" he asked.
Last December, Dr. David Prezant, the FDNY's Chief Medical Officer, said there was a broad scientific consensus that those individuals who had survived an earlier bout with the virus should also be vaccinated.
San Francisco All-In
In June, San Francisco city officials announced that all 35,000 municipal employees would be required to be vaccinated or risk losing their jobs.
That mandate not take effect, however, until the FDA gives full authorization to the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. It has been estimated that this might happen by September.
San Francisco officials defended the mandate on the grounds that police, firefighters, EMTs and even code-enforcement officials come into daily contact with members of the public.
Carol Isen, San Francisco's Director of Human Resources, told the New York Times, "We believe this step is a simple one to take. It's safe, it's very effective, and it's going to guarantee the safety of all."
The de Blasio administration's push for increased vaccination among health-care workers came after its effort to vaccinate 70 percent of city residents by the end of June fell short and the more-contagious Delta variant of the virus surged while the rate of people seeking inoculation slowed.
May Widen Scope
At the Mayor's July 21 press briefing he was asked by reporters, in light of the Delta variant, why he did not opt to follow San Francisco's lead and include all city workers.
"We're going to be looking at that," he responded. "But the number-one thing was to get to the health-care workers first."
In San Francisco, over 70 percent of eligible residents have been vaccinated, a threshold Mr. de Blasio announced July 22 that the city had finally reached, although some poorer city neighborhoods were below 50 percent and just half of firefighters and EMTs had been vaccinated, with the rates even lower among cops and correction officers.
In the NYPD, where just 41 percent of officers have been inoculated, spokeswoman Jessica McRorie said, "Since vaccines became available, we have encouraged our employees, especially those who have contact with the public, to get vaccinated. We have made vaccinations available at multiple times and at multiple locations to ensure that as many of our employees as possible get the vaccination. The NYPD has produced and distributed two videos encouraging NYPD personnel to be vaccinated and two more videos are in production."
Hindered by 'Rumors'
Sergeant McRorie added, "That said, our newest internal messaging focuses on addressing rumors, misinformation and concerns with vaccination. While we have stopped short of compelling uniformed officers to be vaccinated by rule—which would likely face lengthy legal challenges—we have focused our efforts on strong education and encouragement."
The NYPD has lost close to 60 members to the virus.
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