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New York will require police, firefighters and other city workers to be vaccinated

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a COVID-19 vaccination mandate Wednesday for all city workers, including police officers and firefighters.
(Richard Drew / Associated Press)

New York will require police officers, firefighters and other municipal workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or be placed on unpaid leave, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday, giving an ultimatum to public employees who have refused and ensuring a fight with some of the unions representing them.

The mandate affecting the nation’s largest police department and more than 100,000 other Big Apple workers — including trash haulers and building inspectors — carries a Nov. 1 deadline for getting the first vaccine dose, De Blasio announced.

Jailers on Rikers Island, where the city has been grappling with staffing shortages that have created unsafe conditions, will be subject to the mandate Dec. 1.

Of the workers affected by the new mandate, 71% have already received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the city.

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The city previously mandated vaccinations for public school teachers, and New York state had previously mandated vaccines for hospital workers.

City workers who get their first shot by Oct. 29 at a city-run vaccination site will get an extra $500 in their paycheck, the mayor’s office said. Workers who don’t show proof of vaccination by Oct. 29 will be placed on leave.

City workers who aren’t vaccinated for COVID-19 or declared they’ll seek an exemption can have more time to get the shots under L.A. officials’ plan.

“We’ve got to end the COVID era. Our police officers, our EMTs, our firefighters, all our public employees — a lot of them come in very close contact with their fellow New Yorkers,” De Blasio said in an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” after announcing the policy. “They need to be safe. Their families need to be safe, but we also need to reassure all New Yorkers that, if you’re working with a public employee, they’re vaccinated. Everyone’s going to be safe.”

De Blasio had been weighing a vaccine mandate for the police and fire departments and other city agencies for several weeks.

His announcement came amid a new uproar over NYPD officers defying even simple measures like wearing face masks. On Monday, two police officers were seen on video shoving a man out of a Manhattan subway station when he confronted them for flouting rules requiring they wear masks.

The NYPD’s vaccination rate has lagged behind the rest of the city, with some officers refusing to get the shots. Unions representing officers, contending that getting vaccinated is a personal medical decision, said Wednesday they would sue over the mandate.

Los Angeles has reopened, but many first responders remain unvaccinated. Just over 50% of the city’s firefighters and police officers have gotten one shot.

“From the beginning of the De Blasio administration‘s haphazard vaccine rollout, we have fought to make the vaccine available to every member who chooses it, while also protecting their right to make that personal medical decision in consultation with their own doctor,” Pat Lynch, president of the Police Benevolent Assn., the city’s largest police union, said in a statement. “Now that the city has moved to unilaterally impose a mandate, we will proceed with legal action to protect our members’ rights.”

Paul DiGiacomo, the president of the Detectives’ Endowment Assn., said: “Our union will fight just as hard as we did to ensure members could get the vaccine as we will to ensure they’re not mandated to do it. The rights of every detective are our top priority.”

About 69% of the NYPD’s workforce is vaccinated, compared with 77.4% of adult New Yorkers who have been fully vaccinated. The NYPD has about 34,500 uniformed personnel and about 17,700 people in non-uniformed support positions.

More than 60 NYPD employees have died of COVID-19, including five patrol officers, eight detectives and the former chief of transportation. The fire department, whose emergency medical technicians and paramedics were working around the clock in the early days of the pandemic, lost 16 workers to the disease.

More than 2,600 LAPD employees have indicated that they plan to pursue religious exemptions, while more than 350 plan to seek medical ones, according to a source in city government.

Police Commissioner Dermot Shea and Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro have said they support a vaccine mandate, with Shea telling reporters earlier this month that given the “emergency situation that we’re in, it makes sense.” Nigro said at a Fire Department memorial service, “I think it’s time.”

New York’s mandate comes as other cities are starting to punish — and even fire — first responders who fail to meet vaccine requirements.

In Seattle, six police officers and 11 firefighters are slated for termination after the city’s vaccine mandate took effect Monday. Another 93 Seattle officers and 66 firefighters were sidelined Tuesday while seeking religious or medical exemptions.

In Washington state, as of Tuesday, 127 state troopers have been fired for defying a vaccine mandate, and another 32 have resigned or retired rather than get inoculated against COVID-19. In Massachusetts, a police union said at least 150 state troopers are resigning over the state’s vaccination mandate.

In Chicago, where city workers are required to log their vaccination status, Mayor Lori Lightfoot last week accused the president of the city’s police union of trying to “induce an insurrection” by encouraging officers to defy that requirement — even after the union’s former president died of COVID-19. The dispute is now in court.

Under an executive order signed by De Blasio last month, NYPD officers must either be vaccinated or show proof of a negative coronavirus test each week.

New York state has mandated vaccines for healthcare workers, and people in New York City must show proof of vaccination to eat indoors at restaurants or to attend sporting events — or even play in them.

One of the city’s biggest basketball stars, Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving, has been banned from playing or practicing for refusing to get vaccinated. In barring the seven-time All Star, the team cited city rules that pro athletes playing for a team in the city must be vaccinated against COVID-19 to play or practice in public venues.

The Department of Homeland Security says Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has tested positive for COVID-19 and is isolating at home.

De Blasio’s position on vaccine mandates has evolved.

He initially allowed public schoolteachers to get the vaccine or submit regular negative coronavirus tests, but toughened the rule this summer by requiring all teachers to get a vaccine, with no test-out option.

Thousands of teachers and other school employees received their shots in the days before the deadline, city officials said.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court denied a challenge to the teacher vaccine mandate, showing a potential legal pathway for expanding the requirement to other city agencies.


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