What to Know
- As of Tuesday, 92% of the city's 378,000 employees are in compliance with the vaccine mandate, Mayor de Blasio said; 9,000 are on unpaid leave while another 12,000 have filed for exemption
- More than 1,000 FDNY firefighters, about 9% of all employed by the city, are on unpaid leave for noncompliance, while two sources say another 1,000-plus filed religious exemption applications this week
- The mandate has moved the needle -- those newly affected (school and healthcare staff have had the rule in place for weeks) had a 71% vaccination rate on Oct. 19; that's now up to 87% and is climbing
A full day into New York City's controversial workforce vaccine mandate, the feared staff shortages haven't seemed to disrupt essential services. The needle as far as the city's vaccination rate is clearly moving, as Mayor Bill de Blasio had predicted.
Almost every one of the city's 40-plus agencies has seen substantial growth in vaccination rates among personnel -- some to an astounding degree in such limited time -- since the Democrat announced the planned expansion. The number of city workers on unpaid leave is 40% lower (9,000 on Monday, less than 6% of the workforce) than some had predicted, and 2,000 more city workers got their first shot since Monday.
"I want to thank the 92 percent of our workforce that has done the right thing, gone out and gotten vaccinated," de Blasio said.
But that 9,000 number could rise significantly in the next several days as 12,000 pending exemption claims begin to be processed. And it could rise more if the mayor starts issuing consequences, as he warned a day ago, for those faking sick.
That last allegation has been fairly confined to FDNY firefighters, both de Blasio and FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro acknowledged Monday. Nigro said his department was getting more than three times its average daily number of sick calls, with the majority of those involving unvaccinated firefighters.
It's a change both he and the mayor attributed in part to some people they claimed were faking sick to skirt the vaccination requirement and still get paid.
The firefighters union leader denied a coordinated sick-out, as UFA President Andrew Ansbro said that "no one on this board would condone anyone using medical leave fraudulently."
A bit more than 1,000 FDNY firefighters -- 9% or so of all of them citywide -- are among the 9,000 city employees on unpaid leave after failing to get vaccinated by the mandate deadline, a senior FDNY official tells News 4.
Two other FDNY sources tell News 4 the FDNY's Office of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) received more than 1,000 religious exemption applications this week. That office normally gets around 200 through an entire year, the source said.
It's not clear how long it will take the thousands of claims to be processed, though it is not expected to take more than two weeks and many claims could be resolved in the coming days. Some cases may be ruled legitimate, which would entitle an unvaccinated employee to stay on the job, and get paid, as long as that person submits to weekly COVID testing.
In other cases, officials expect exemption claims were filed just as a stalling tactic and will be processed accordingly.
For example, suppose a firefighter claims to be a Christian Scientist and argues forced vaccination equates to a violation of constitutional religious freedom rights. The EEO office will conduct an investigation. If it finds evidence that firefighter's self-described religious identity materialized only just now, in time to file a religious exemption claim, that exemption claim would likely be rejected. And that firefighter may join the thousands of other city workers on unpaid leave for noncompliance.
Overall compliance has been high. As of City Hall's latest update, 92% of the 378,000-member municipal workforce has gotten at least one vaccine dose. That includes Department of Education and healthcare staff for whom the same mandate went into effect weeks ago. Exclude them and the numbers are stark.
As of Tuesday, 87% of the city workforce newly affected by de Blasio's mandate had gotten at least the first required dose. That's up from 85% two days before the deadline -- and up from 71% on Oct. 19, the day before de Blasio's announcement.
Though workers who resist compliance lose their paychecks, they can be reinstated as soon as they get their first shots. The mayor is appealing daily for them to do so.
"There's still a chance to fix it. Come in, get vaccinated, come back to work because we need everyone to do their job and we need everyone to be safe," de Blasio said Monday. "This mandate was the right thing to do."
The courts have upheld the Democrat's mandate despite challenges by the firefighters' unions and an ongoing appeal by the Police Benevolent Association, which represents the NYPD. De Blasio believes his mandate, which he says he enacted in the name of public health, will continue to prevail. Many experts agree.
The latest failed challenge came on Friday, when a federal appeals panel upheld New York state’s vaccine mandate for healthcare workers. The mandate for those workers and Department of Education staff went into effect weeks ago.
New York City and New Jersey Vaccine Providers
Click on each provider to find more information on scheduling appointments for the COVID-19 Vaccine.
Data: City of New York, State of New Jersey • Nina Lin / NBC
Meanwhile, U.S. health officials on Tuesday gave the final signoff to Pfizer’s kid-size COVID-19 shot, a milestone that opens a major expansion of the nation’s vaccination campaign to children as young as 5. The decision marks the first opportunity for Americans under 12 to get the powerful protection of any COVID-19 vaccine.
The American Academy of Pediatrics welcomed the decision as its members get ready to start the first injections into little arms, which the CDC said could begin “as soon as possible.” Pfizer over the weekend began shipping millions of the pediatric shots to states, doctors’ offices and pharmacies — in orange caps, to avoid mix-ups with purple-capped vials of adult vaccine.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said that the green light from the CDC was "an important step in fighting this pandemic." She said that the state Department of health will issue guidance regarding the vaccine for children.
"I encourage parents to reach out to their pediatricians and prepare to get their children vaccinated," Hochul said in a statement. "New York State has been making preparations for this moment, and we will waste no time to help et shots administered through all available channels so that we can protect our kids from COVID-19 and finally put an end to the pandemic."
New York City is ready, with 231,000 doses available at city sites 24 hours after approval. In New Jersey, 203,000 doses will be available at 230 sites statewide.