New York City municipal employees have been rushing to get COVID-19 vaccinations in recent days, which has raised the group’s total coverage to 91% through Saturday night.
But progress has stalled among key workforces such as first aiders and sanitation workers, and enforcement of the mandate begins on Monday. Mayor Bill de Blasio has promised to send all unvaccinated employees home without pay, but some workers are already reporting sick. Service interruptions, namely waste collection, become deeper.
About 1 in 5 paramedics – 21% – missed Friday’s deadline for the shots and remained unvaccinated. That figure only improved by two percentage points on Saturday. Similar stagnation applied to the city’s firefighters, except for a larger proportion who – 27% – have not taken at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Large gaps also remain intact for Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and NYPD staff – both with 16% uninoculated.
About 12,000 employees for first aid agencies and 2,100 sanitation workers face the prospect of unpaid leave from Monday. It includes 8,300 NYPD employees and 3,900 people with FDNY. In total, about 24,200 municipal employees are still unvaccinated. The size of New York City’s workforce is about 378,000 people, according to the mayor’s office.
Critical services are already affected. Over the weekend, members of the New York City Fire Department (FDNY), who called out, forced several businesses to temporarily close, according to Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro. But he and an FDNY spokesman declined to give specific figures.
“Irresponsible false illness from some of our members poses a danger to New Yorkers and their other firefighters,” Nigro said. “They have to return to work or risk the consequences of their actions.”
City officials clarified that no full firehouses were allowed to close, contrary to some news reports that surfaced over the weekend. There were only certain companies within each firehouse. A spokesman for the mayor accused The New York Post of publishing such a lie.
A spokesman for FDNY said companies, not firehouses, go out of business when resources are reduced. But they confirmed that 2,000 firefighters had been out on medical leave over the past week.
“The excessive sick leave of a group of our firefighters because of their anger over the vaccine mandate for all city employees is unacceptable, contrary to their oath to serve, and could endanger New Yorkers’ lives,” Nigro said.
A spokesman for the Uniformed Firefighter Association pushed back on the allegations of being on sick leave, saying many firefighters in its union, who had recently been vaccinated, called out if they felt up in the air, in line with FDNY’s policy.
The NYPD has also had to relocate staff due to vaccination, according to a detective who requested that his name be withheld because he was not authorized to speak to the press. The NYC Police Pension Fund held a two-day retirement at the end of last week for employees who did not want to take the vaccines before the mandate took full effect.
“It’s obviously chaotic,” he said. “With retirements and remnants, they are relocating people who are not on patrol to patrol to cover the shortage.”
The NYPD did not immediately respond to requests for comment on these apparent staff changes. In an email, NYPD Sergeant Edward Riley said the agency was expanding times and city-run locations where officers could be vaccinated over the weekend.
From Friday, Belinda Mager, a spokeswoman for the city’s sanitation department, said they experienced service delays. To cope with that, the department had put workers on 12-hour shifts, got workers to stay on the clock Sunday and all days off had been canceled.
Despite these measures, 311 service requests showed that complaints about lost waste collection continued to increase through the end of the week, with 2,725 complaints on Friday. That is up from about 150 a day before the vaccine mandate was announced and about 1,200 on Tuesday. Mager also said the planned expansion of the city’s long-term composting program had been put on hold.
The vaccination rate among the Prison and Probation Service is still the lowest among the city’s agencies – by 60% with one dose – but has improved by 9% since the mayor announced the new mandate on 20 October. This is despite the fact that many detectives have had their deadline extended to December to avoid aggravation of staff shortages in the city’s prisons.
This story was updated with statements and data from FDNY on sick leave.