Nearly 4,000 unvaccinated NYC workers face firing next week amid slowdown in COVID shots

Mayor Adams said the ultimatum is about safety, though this decision will likely impact the Correction Department particularly hard


By Chris Sommerfeldt
New York Daily News
        
NEW YORK — Mayor Adams to city workers: Get vaccinated or get lost.

The Adams administration has alerted nearly 4,000 unvaccinated municipal employees — including cops, firefighters and correction officers — that they will lose their jobs if they do not get their coronavirus shots by the end of next week.

Adams’ shot across the bow came in letters issued to the affected workers this week informing them that they have until Feb. 11 to get inoculated.

Municipal workers take part in a demonstration to protest against the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, in New York on Oct. 25, 2021.
Municipal workers take part in a demonstration to protest against the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, in New York on Oct. 25, 2021. (Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

Speaking at City Hall on Monday, Adams said the ultimatum is about safety and argued that city employees have had long enough to comply with the municipal workforce vaccine mandate, which took effect Nov. 1.

“Safety is not only to stop the bullet, a knife or some other item. Safety is COVID. COVID is taking lives,” the mayor said. “There must be rules, and we must follow them. The rule is to get vaccinated if you are a city employee.”

The roughly 4,000 workers at risk of getting the boot fall into two categories, according to data provided by City Hall.

The first category comprises about 1,000 workers hired after Aug. 2 — the date when former Mayor Bill de Blasio first announced the municipal mandate — who have yet to present proof of receiving a second vaccine dose.

The remaining nearly 3,000 are unvaccinated and have been on unpaid leave since Nov. 1 without receiving city-provided health benefits.

Unvaccinated workers who have been on leave with city-backed health insurance are not affected by next week’s deadline and can stay in their unpaid employment status at least through June 30, according to City Hall. It was not immediately clear how many workers are in that category.

It was also not clear which agencies the 4,000 targeted employees work for.

However, in a potential clue, no NYPD, FDNY or Correction Department unions came to agreements with the city that would have allowed their members to keep their health benefits while on vaccine-related unpaid leaves.

Meantime, the NYPD and the Correction Department have the lowest vaccination rates of all the municipal agencies — both at 88% as of Jan. 26, the latest reporting window, according to city data.

The FDNY has a slightly better rate, with 95% of its members having received at least one shot as of the same date, the data shows.

Some moderate Democrats who have otherwise been supportive of Adams were disappointed by his firing threat.

“I understand the health point of view, but I think it’s kind of drastic to do to first responders who’ve done a lot for the city,” said City Councilman Robert Holden (D-Queens). “I think we might look back years from now and say we made a mistake. I just think it’s a mistake. ... If they want to jeopardize their life, that’s their decision. We don’t want to be a nanny state.”

City workers who can’t get vaccinated for health or religious reasons are able to file so-called reasonable accommodation requests — and Adams encouraged anyone with a legitimate claim to do so.

“Put in for a waiver, put in if you for some reason can’t comply and we’ll look at it,” Adams said Monday.

This week’s termination escalation from the Adams administration comes amid a slowdown in vaccinations among city workers.

As of the Jan. 26 data set, 95% of the city’s more than 370,000 workers have gotten at least one shot — the same rate as when de Blasio left office Jan. 1.

That’s in spite of the fact that the omicron variant triggered a massive COVID-19 outbreak last month.

The omicron resurgence has since subsided, and the city’s daily test positivity average dipped to 4.26% on Monday, down from 22.31% on Jan. 2.

But death rates — which tend to lag behind infection spikes by a few weeks — remain high, with 122 New Yorkers dying from the virus Monday, including 59 in the city.

Public health experts have repeatedly found that available coronavirus vaccines are highly effective in decreasing the risk of being hospitalized or killed by COVID-19, but some skeptics insist individuals shouldn’t face pressure to get shots.

Staten Island Councilman Joseph Borelli, the chamber’s Republican minority leader, pointed to recent federal data suggesting that immunity acquired from an infection may be effective in protecting against omicron as a reason to not enforce mandates.

“It’s just absurd that we aren’t considering this reality, and instead living in a hyperpolitical echo chamber of COVID madness,” Borelli said.

©2022 New York Daily News.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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