De Blasio delays COVID-19 vaccine mandate for NYC cops, firefighters: ‘I like to respect people’s intelligence’
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday justified dragging his feet on mandating coronavirus vaccinations for cops, firefighters and correction officers, contending that he prefers to “respect people’s intelligence” before ordering them to get their shots.
A growing chorus of local politicians and health experts argue it’s high time to mandate COVID-19 shots for the NYPD, FDNY and Correction Department amid slumping vaccination rates in their ranks, but de Blasio said in his daily briefing that he’s not in a rush.
“I think everyone out there is mature adults. I like to respect people’s intelligence,” de Blasio said when asked why he hasn’t instituted mandates for the three agencies yet. “We have, I think, pretty meticulously in the course of the pandemic tried to figure out what made sense to do when, and make sure we had all the pieces in place. I do believe you sequence things in different ways, and there’s still issues that we have to understand better and resolve.”
Without going into details, de Blasio said he’ll have “more to say in the coming days” on mandates, but warned against pulling the trigger too soon.
“It’s not always a matter of, you know, just push a button. You have to get things right,” he said.
But Manhattan Democratic Councilman Mark Levine, who chairs the Council’s Health Committee, said this is not a time for delay and fine-tuning.
“The time is now,” Levine told the Daily News. “I’m hopeful that we have put the worst of this pandemic behind us, but that is not a foregone conclusion, especially as people go back inside more during the colder months.”
Levine also questioned the idea that there could be obstacles in the way of new mandates, given that the de Blasio administration’s vaccine requirement for Department of Education staffers was upheld as legal by New York’s top federal court last month.
“It’s a real vindication of the strategy,” he said, noting that more than 95% of Education Department staff is now vaccinated. “We’ve proven out the legal underpinnings of mandates. We’ve proven that it works to get the majority of people vaccinated. Some people just need that extra push to get it done.”
NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea was less diffuse than de Blasio when asked about requiring police officers to get vaccinated.
“I would be supportive of a vaccine mandate. I’ve said that from day one,” Shea said. “I think that the science, the health, the emergency that we’re in — it makes sense.”
Department of Education staffers and health care workers are currently the only public sector employees in the city who must be vaccinated.
All other municipal workers, including NYPD, FDNY and Correction Department members, can opt out of being vaccinated if they submit to weekly coronavirus testing.
The urgency around expanding vaccine mandates comes as some municipal agencies are still reporting inoculation rates far below the citywide average.
According to data compiled by the de Blasio administration, NYPD’s vaccination rate stands at 68%, while FDNY’s lags at 59%. The Correction Department, whose staffing shortages has exacerbated the crisis on Rikers Island, is even further behind, with just 49% of its members reporting receiving at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine.
By contrast, more than 83% of the city’s adult population has gotten at least one shot, according to Health Department data.
The vaccine deficit among cops, firefighters and correction officers stands in contrast to the fact that they were among the first categories of workers who could receive coronavirus vaccines when they were first authorized for use in late 2020.
At an FDNY event Wednesday, Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro suggested he’d support a vaccine mandate.
“There is still a large portion of our members who have yet to be vaccinated,” he said. “It’s a decision they’ll have to make but I think they’ll make the right decision. It will be good for them. It will be good for the people they serve and their families.”
With Thomas Tracy