New York City's Department of Investigation says it is aware of allegations involving bogus COVID vaccination cards issued to employees in at least two agencies amid mounting pressure to comply with Mayor Bill de Blasio's citywide vaccine mandate.
DOI, which is tasked with independent oversight of city government, declined further comment in an email late Sunday as the investigation continues.
The two departments at the center of the allegations -- fire and sanitation, according to The New York Post, which first reported the probe -- employ workers that were among the most vocally opposed to the mandate in the days before and after its Nov. 1 launch. Anyone who doesn't comply must go on unpaid leave.
A major firefighters union, the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, was notably absent from the vaccine mandate deal the city has inked with now at least 15 labor unions, while some sanitation workers allegedly staged a trash pick-up slowdown in parts of the city the week before the mandate took effect.
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Requests for comment to the FDNY and UFOA were not immediately returned. Eighty-eight percent of the FDNY is at least partially vaccinated, according to the city's latest data. That number is up dramatically from the 60% dosed on Oct. 19, the day before the mayor announced his planned vaccine mandate expansion.
Rates significantly vary by unit, though, with civilian FDNY employees reporting the highest vaccination rate (94%), followed by EMS (92%) and firefighters (86%). Track the latest numbers across the city's workforce by agency here.
A sanitation department spokesman, Joshua Goodman, told News 4 it was actively investigating the allegations in coordination with DOI.
"These are very concerning allegations and we take them very seriously – getting vaccinated is important to public health, and we do not tolerate anyone faking something that is a requirement of city employment," Goodman said.
"Thousands of DSNY employees have stepped up to get vaccinated in the last several weeks, and over 87% of the department is either fully or partially vaccinated," he added. Anyone found to have faked their vaccination will be suspended without pay."
According to the Post, some of the fake vaccination cards allegedly being used were taken when they were blank and then reappropriated. Others allegedly involved people affiliated with pharmacy retailers, the paper said.
It's not immediately clear how many potential fraudulent cases are under investigation by DOI. Under the mayor's mandate, any city employee who did not show proof of at least one vaccine dose by Nov. 1 had to go on unpaid leave.
As of last week, about 2,600 remained on unpaid leave, down from 9,000 the day the mandate went into effect, but at least 12,400 medical and exemption claims are still pending decisions by respective agencies, de Blasio said last week.
Nearly half of those seeking exemption are NYPD officers.