Drive to get COVID-19 vaccine to L.A. firefighters loses steam as 40% fail to show up

LAFD paramedic Anthony Kong, right, gives LAFD Capt. Elliot Ibanez his  COVID-19 shot at a downtown station on Dec. 28, 2020.
LAFD paramedic Anthony Kong, right, gives LAFD Capt. Elliot Ibanez his COVID-19 shot at a downtown station on Dec. 28, 2020.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
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The push to protect Los Angeles Fire Department personnel from COVID-19 has ground to a near halt as many firefighters decline to take the vaccine.

Late last year, firefighters were the first city workers given access to the shots. After an initial burst of activity, the number showing up to get the vaccine has plummeted.

This past week, only 143 firefighters visited one of the department’s vaccination centers, according to data released by the city Friday night. So far, 1,944 of the agency’s just under 3,400 members have been inoculated, leaving 4 in 10 vulnerable to the highly infectious coronavirus.


The reluctance of L.A. firefighters adds to the list of healthcare workers in the state who are declining to take the vaccine, a trend that health experts say could have serious public health implications.

Firefighters are on the front lines of the pandemic, with many working as paramedics and emergency medical technicians. More than 830 city firefighters — nearly one-quarter of the force — have tested positive thus far. Two have died, most recently Capt. George Roque, 57, a 22-year veteran.

As part of their work responding to 911 calls and delivering patients to emergency rooms, many firefighters are routinely in contact with sick patients. Regardless of whether they get a shot, they are required to wear protective equipment on the job.

On Friday, Mayor Eric Garcetti said he would “potentially” make the vaccination mandatory if firefighters remain reluctant in a few months.

“It’s something that we’re talking about, especially those who will be interacting with the public,” Garcetti said, adding that other city workers could also face mandatory vaccinations.

Representatives for United Firefighters of Los Angeles City Local 112 didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about Garcetti’s remarks.

In a bid to encourage participation, Fire Chief Ralph M. Terrazas has resorted to offering prizes to those who get the shot. Vaccinated firefighters get entered into a raffle where the gifts include Canary home security cameras, Google Nest entertainment systems, Aventon fixed-gear bicycles and gift cards for Airbnb and Lyft.


The gifts are funded by the LAFD Foundation, a nonprofit organization that raises money to support the department, according to a memo distributed by Terrazas that was obtained by The Times.

“We are educating our members with the facts about the vaccine and we expect that over time the number of vaccinated members will continue to increase,” said David Ortiz, a spokesman for the city fire agency. “At this time we are not planning to mandate it.”