Pockets of Vaccine Hesitancy Emerge Among U.S. Firefighters

Hundreds of firefighters in Los Angeles have filed a notice of intent to sue to fight a vaccine mandate, with the threat of seeking more than $2.1 billion.


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Vaccine hesitancy, an issue among police officers, is also evident among firefighters.

A firefighter picking up his Covid-19 vaccination card in January in Los Angeles.Credit…Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

Oct. 9, 2021, 4:37 p.m. ET

Vaccine hesitancy among police officers in the United States has been one of the themes of pandemic news this year, but in some places, firefighters are joining the resistance.

This week, hundreds of firefighters in Los Angeles filed a notice of intent to sue the city over its vaccine mandate, saying an Oct. 20 deadline to get vaccinated is “extreme and outrageous.”

The notice, filed on Thursday, said each of the 871 firefighters would seek $2.5 million each if the lawsuit is filed — for a projected total of over $2.1 billion. A lawyer representing the group said that the city would have 45 days to evaluate the notice and that he expected to file the suit immediately after that period.

Firefighters in Spokane, Wash., joined state workers in a lawsuit over statewide vaccine mandates, according to KXLY-TV. In Orange County, Fla., a group of firefighters upset by a vaccine mandate sued the county, WFTV reported.

The International Association of Fire Fighters‘ statement on vaccines offers no support for rejecting vaccine mandates. Instead, it notes the extreme importance of vaccination for “fire fighters and medical emergency personnel who work in confined and uncontrolled environments while treating or transporting patients or interacting with the public.” The statement lists the few options available for exemptions, and lists some of the financial penalties and job losses that defying mandates could incur.

Kevin McBride, the lawyer representing the Los Angeles firefighters, said in an interview that his clients did not trust the available vaccines and could be fired for defying the city’s vaccine mandate.

All three vaccines used in the United States are highly effective at preventing serious illness, hospitalization and death from Covid-19, and serious side effects, like a strong allergic reaction, are extremely rare.

Mr. McBride said the Los Angeles authorities had rejected his offer of a “middle ground” in which weekly testing would substitute for getting the shot. The mandate passed by the Los Angeles City Council in August did not include an option for regular testing.

As of Thursday, about 64 percent of members of the Los Angeles Fire Department were fully vaccinated, according to a spokeswoman, Cheryl Getuiza, and about 1,200 members had not had a single shot. Since the pandemic began, two members have died, and 1,070 have been infected, she said.

Los Angeles is also experiencing vaccine hesitancy among its law-enforcement agents. The firefighters’ notice of intent to sue was filed on the same day that the Los Angeles County sheriff, Alex Villanueva, said he would not enforce the vaccine mandate at his department, which employs some 18,000 people.

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