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New York orders police vaccinations as officers across US resist

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NYPD officers wearing face masks in April 2020./AFP
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Oct 21, 2021 - 10:42 AM

NEW YORK — New York City ordered all police officers to get vaccinated against Covid-19 Wednesday, setting up a showdown with the force’s union as cops across the United States challenge mandated inoculations.

The directive — which also applies to firefighters, prison guards and sanitation workers — comes as disgruntled officers in Chicago and Los Angeles push back against proof of vaccination requirements.

Vaccine rates amongst the New York Police Department lag behind the city average: some 71 percent of the force’s 55,000-strong staff have been inoculated compared to 84 percent of all adults in the Big Apple.

In a bid to boost the rate, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that all public workers must provide proof they have received at least one vaccine dose, or risk losing their jobs.

“I’m saying this to every mayor, every governor, every CEO, it’s time for these mandates, finish this war, or we’re going to have Covid with us way too long,” he told MSNBC.

The order applies to 160,000 city employees and will come into force from November 1.

Corrections officers will have another month to get vaccinated due to a staffing crisis at Rikers Island prison.

“Unvaccinated employees will be placed on unpaid leave until they show proof of vaccination to their supervisor,” the mayor’s office said in a statement.

They will not have the option of providing a negative test instead, but medical and religious exemptions will be allowed.

The New York City Police Benevolent Association, the world’s largest municipal police union representing some 24,000 officers, said it would challenge the move.

It supports vaccines but opposes mandates, saying it should be a personal decision between individual officers and their health care providers.

The union endorsed Donald Trump in last year’s election and has repeatedly clashed with de Blasio, a Democrat.

“Now that the city has moved to unilaterally impose a mandate, we will proceed with legal action to protect our members’ rights,” president Patrick Lynch said in a statement.

Some 237 police US police officers have died from coronavirus in 2021, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page which tracks deaths in the line of duty. Fifty have died from gunfire.

In the third-largest US city, Chicago, several thousand officers face being placed on unpaid leave after refusing to disclose their vaccine status.

Texas ban 

The stand-off has reached the courts and comes as Chicago once again leads the United States in murders, with 639 homicides this year through October 13 — up 55 percent from two years ago.

Earlier this month, Los Angeles County sheriff Alex Villanueva said he would not enforce a vaccine mandate on his 18,000 employees, according to local reports.

In Massachusetts, around 85 percent of state police are vaccinated but unions say resignations over a mandate was worsening a staffing crisis.

Seattle police are also grappling with shortages due to a mandate, a local guild said.

Vaccine mandates are a political flashpoint in America, with Republicans generally opposing them, citing personal freedom arguments.

Last month Democratic President Joe Biden announced his government would demand vaccines for federal workers and for businesses with more than 100 employees.

On October 11, Texas’s Republican governor Gregg Abbott banned mandates for any entities in his state, including private companies.

As an incentive, New York City employees will receive an extra $500 in their paycheck if they get vaccinated by October 29.

More than 70 percent of the workers affected by the mandate have already received at least one vaccine dose, which leaves around 46,000 of them unvaccinated.

The order essentially extends an earlier mandate that required all public sector teachers and healthcare workers to receive a vaccine.

That directive dramatically increased vaccination rates to 96 percent of education employees and 95 percent of hospital staff.

New York City already requires vaccines for most indoor activities, including dining, Broadway shows, cinemas and gyms.

More than 34,000 people have died from Covid-19 in the city of more than 8 million people.

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