NEW YORK, United States– Vaccine-reluctant New York firefighters took to the streets Monday to demonstrate against the city’s requirement that they get inoculated against COVID-19 or risk losing their jobs.
Several thousand municipal workers, mostly firefighters, marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall in Manhattan carrying placards that read “Do we ask your vaccine status when you call 911?” and “Essential yesterday, unemployed today.”
Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio announced last week that all public employees, including police officers and firefighters, will have to get vaccinated by November 1 or they will be placed on unpaid leave until they can provide proof of a shot.
They will not have the option of providing a negative test instead, but medical and religious exemptions will be allowed.
Only 60 percent of the roughly 17,000 fire department staff have received a shot, according to FDNY statistics, well below the 84 percent of all New York’s adults.
“I’m not against the vaccine, said John, a 35-year-old firefighter.
“I’m just against the mandates. I think mandates are a violation of freedom,” he told AFP. “I would never want anybody to feel like they have to disclose their health information to me.”
As an incentive, New York City employees will receive an extra $500 in their paycheck if they get vaccinated by October 29.
Adriane Williams, who has worked in the offices of the New York Fire Department for 19 years, said she was having to make “a choice between my life and my career.”
“I have to choose my life,” said the 43-year-old. “But I love my career and I shouldn’t have to make that choice,” she added.
Firefighters, wearing t-shirts bearing their station’s number and names of colleagues who died in the September 11, 2001 attacks, chanted “My body, my choice” and pro-Donald Trump slogans as they waved American flags.
One sign said “Vaccinated by the Holy Spirit,” while in the middle of the procession a man dressed as Jesus carried a cross.
De Blasio’s order essentially extended a vaccine mandate for public sector teachers and healthcare workers to cover the city’s remaining 160,000 employees, 46,000 of whom had not been inoculated as of last week.
Also Monday, the Police Benevolent Association, New York’s largest union representing police officers, filed a lawsuit challenging the mandate.