‘Sharp decline’ in COVID cases among L.A. firefighters after vaccinations

John Novela, a Los Angeles Fire Department fire inspector, receives a COVID-19 vaccination
John Novela, a Los Angeles Fire Department fire inspector, receives a COVID-19 vaccination given by Mario Guillen, an LAFD firefighter paramedic, last month.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

The number of Los Angeles firefighters testing positive for the coronavirus has dropped significantly since the city fire agency began offering its members vaccinations, Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas said in a memo to firefighters this week.

In the memo dated Tuesday and obtained by The Times, Terrazas said the Los Angeles Fire Department has seen a “sharp decline” in cases since firefighters started getting the shots Dec. 28.

A chart included with the memo shows that the LAFD was averaging more than 15 new cases a day before the vaccination program. The number soon plummeted. In the most recent week, the department has averaged fewer than five new cases a day.

An internal LAFD memo shows new cases of COVID-19 falling after the introduction of a vaccination program.

“We are continuing to strongly encourage our sworn members to get the COVID vaccine and are offering it multiple times per week indefinitely,” Terrazas told The Times on Wednesday.

The city’s roughly 3,350 firefighters are on the front lines, working as paramedics and emergency medical technicians, and were among those first allowed access to the vaccinations.

The success cited by the chief comes despite the fact that in Los Angeles, and elsewhere, some first responders have been reluctant to be vaccinated.

Despite the urging of the chief and an incentive program that offers prizes to firefighters who volunteer for the shots, only 60% of the city’s firefighters had been vaccinated at the end of last week, according to the department.

Some officials said firefighters don’t feel comfortable being among the first to take the vaccine. Other firefighters argue that they’ve already been infected, so they don’t feel they need the vaccine.

More than 860 city firefighters — nearly one-quarter of the force — have tested positive and two have died.

California officials have struck a far-reaching agreement with Blue Shield to distribute vaccine to counties, pharmacies and private healthcare providers.

Jan. 27, 2021

Terrazas, in his memo, also pointed to news coverage of the vaccine and wrote that the shot developed by Moderna and the National Institutes of Health has caused very few cases of severe allergic reaction during its initial rollout across the country.


Terrazas wrote that about 550 members have tested positive for the virus since Thanksgiving. “If you have had COVID-19, it is recommended that you wait 90 days after your diagnosis to get the COVID-19 vaccine,” Terrazas wrote.

The L.A. County Fire Department also has seen a sharp decline in new coronavirus cases within the department since beginning the vaccination process in December, said public information officer Jon Matheny.

Mayor Eric Garcetti said earlier this month that he would potentially make the vaccination mandatory if firefighters remain reluctant in a few months. He said Monday the city isn’t looking at enforcement right now.

“I would just encourage every single firefighter, follow your union chief, follow your chief, their example and get the vaccine,” Garcetti said. “You’re at that front of the line, you should.”