191 San Diego Fire-Rescue Personnel Decline COVID-19 Vaccine So Far

The photo shows the front of an ambulance.
File Photo

David Hernandez

The San Diego Union-Tribune

(TNS)

Nearly 200 San Diego Fire-Rescue personnel have so far turned down a COVID-19 vaccine, showing reluctance as health officials scramble to protect frontline workers like firefighters from the highly infectious coronavirus.

As of Wednesday, 191 personnel had declined to take the vaccine; 895 had gotten the shot, according to department figures.

The vaccine is available to all of the department’s roughly 1,500 employees, including lifeguards and non-sworn staff, a spokeswoman said. The force includes 943 firefighters, who double as paramedics or emergency medical technicians, placing them on the front lines of the pandemic.

As of Wednesday, 99 firefighters had tested positive, according to the department.

Department spokeswoman Mónica Muñoz said the vaccination figures may not account for  vaccines administered by employees’ health care providers, adding that the department is not privy to personal health information.

The department is not alone in facing reluctance. About 40 percent of the Los Angeles Fire Department hasn’t taken the vaccine, according to a Los Angeles Times report. To encourage vaccinations, that department resorted to offering raffle prizes, including gift cards and home-security systems.

Expecting they’d see some reluctance as the vaccine became available, San Diego Fire Chief Colin Stowell and union leaders were photographed getting vaccinated during a drive late last month.

“If there are still any people who still don’t know if they can trust it for sure, we want to show that we believe in the science and we’re confident in the vaccine,” Stowell said at the time. “And we feel like it’s really important for us to not only protect ourselves as individuals, but by us protecting our workforce, we’re better able to protect the communities we serve.”

Jesse Conner, president of San Diego City Firefighters IAFF Local 145, who was vaccinated at the same event as the chief, said the number of personnel who have declined the vaccine is higher than he expected. He called around to firefighters to gauge the reasons behind the reluctance.

What he learned was some firefighters don’t feel comfortable being among the first in society to take the vaccine and have concerns about possible side effects. Some of them plan to have children and feel studies on the vaccines haven’t provided enough information about any impacts on pregnancies. Others are concerned the Food and Drug Administration granted the vaccines emergency-use authorization as opposed to full approval under less urgent circumstances.

“I’d like to say it was just one thing, but the reasons I heard were varied,” Conner said.

For some firefighters, a group he noted tends to be younger and healthier than the larger population, it comes down to a risk-benefit analysis, Conner said.

The department and union promoted a California Professional Firefighters virtual town hall in which doctors dispelled rumors. The department saw a small uptick in vaccinations after that, Conner said.

Regardless of whether they are vaccinated, firefighters and other personnel are required to wear protective equipment and follow other precautions on the job. “That’s not going to change,” Conner said.

This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.

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