NYC misses deadline to revise COVID-19 vaccine waivers for city employees

New York City agencies will not meet a self-imposed deadline to review the estimated 14,400 applications for COVID-19 vaccine waivers, Mayor Bill de Blasio confirmed at a news conference Wednesday.

The missed deadline means around 6,100 police officers, 1,500 firefighters and 1,300 sanitation workers can still report to work as usual without being vaccinated while their applications are vetted. Citywide, the number of new infections with the coronavirus and the positivity percentage to tap upward, mainly driven by unvaccinated people.

The Citywide Office of Administrative Services had a Thanksgiving deadline, by which all decisions and appeals had to be dealt with. But at his regular briefing a day before the lockdown, De Blasio admitted the city was nowhere near that timetable. The city’s COVID-19 vaccine went into full effect on November 1.

“Obviously it’s way too big a number to get through on that timeline,” he said. When asked how many applications had been assessed, de Blasio declined to provide details, other than that “relatively few” had been completed. He also declined to set a new timeline for when exemptions would be reviewed.

According to city data, the city’s workforce had a vaccination rate of 94% on Monday. But the NYPD, Department of Sanitation and New York City firefighters are still lagging. They all have a coverage ratio of less than 90%.

“Every agency works through it purposefully. They will get the job done by definition,” de Blasio said. His press service did not answer a request for clarification.

NYPD officers had three times as many religious and medical applications exemptions like any other city agency. Speaking at NY1 Tuesday morning, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said the agency had received 1,100 of those requests so far and denied most of them, but he didn’t give an exact number of denials. Several hundred of those people have since been vaccinated, he said, adding that he expected others to appeal their refusal.

“There was a very small number that got waivers and those reports have gone out in the past four to five days,” Shea said. Overall, the NYPD has a COVID-19 vaccination rate of 87%

The Department of Correction remains the city agency with the lowest vaccination rate of 72%. But the officers were given an extended deadline compared to other municipal employees under the mandate. Corrections officers have until December 1 to take a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine. The extension was awarded due to ongoing concerns about low staffing levels in the Rikers prison complex, which has contributed to the deteriorating conditions there.

De Blasio has promised to give a strict interpretation to who would be approved for religious and medical exemptions. In accordance with the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only employees with severe allergies to the COVID-19 vaccines should — that are rare — Permanent medical waivers will be granted. Religious exemptions will be approved based on a person’s “sincere religious, moral or ethical belief”. Personal, political or philosophical preferences will not make it, according to the city guide.

Elizabeth Kim contributed to the reporting.

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