De Blasio considering vaccine mandate for NYPD

(File Photo)

New York City's mayor said Friday he's looking at "all options" when it comes to a possible COVID-19 vaccine mandate for police officers — an idea backed by the city's police commissioner but opposed by its largest police union.

"We're looking at all options," Mayor Bill de Blasio said during his weekly appearance on Brian Lehrer's WNYC radio show. 

"In the coming days I'll speak about additional steps for different parts of the city, our workforce and beyond, different things we're going to be looking at, different things we're going to be doing," de Blasio said. "But that's still several days away because we're doing a very meticulous analysis of what is the next step that makes sense."

De Blasio has floated a potential vaccine mandate for the NYPD, the nation's largest police department, for several weeks. The department's vaccination rate has lagged behind the rest of the city, with some officers flat out refusing to get the shots.

As of Wednesday, 68% of the NYPD's workforce was vaccinated, according to Commissioner Dermot Shea, compared with 76% of adult New Yorkers who have been fully vaccinated. The NYPD has about 34,500 uniformed personnel and about 17,700 people in non-uniformed support positions.

The discussion about a vaccine mandate heated up in recent days after Shea again said he'd support the move and fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro told reporters he'd favor the same for firefighters. At the same time, the Supreme Court denied a challenge to a city vaccine mandate for public school teachers, showing a potential legal pathway for expanding the requirement to other city agencies.

The state has mandated vaccines for health care workers and people in New York City must show proof of vaccination to eat indoors at restaurants or attend sporting events. De Blasio initially allowed public school teachers to get the vaccine or submit regular negative COVID-19 tests, but toughened the rule this summer by requiring all teachers to get a vaccine with no test-out option.

Thousands of teachers and other school employees got the vaccine in the days before the deadline, city officials said. 

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"We're looking at a variety of tools," de Blasio said Friday. "So far, I like a lot how the mandates are going. They're driving up vaccinations, they're driving down COVID. There's a lot of other tools we have and we'll be talking about them in the next few days."

Currently, under an executive order signed by the mayor last month, NYPD officers must either be vaccinated or show proof of a negative COVID-19 test each week. The police department said Friday there were no pending changes to its vaccine policy.

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Officers in other cities, including Los Angeles and Seattle, face deadlines this month to get vaccinated or risk losing their jobs. In Los Angeles, officials said more than 30% of officers remain unvaccinated despite an Oct. 20 deadline. In Seattle, several hundred officers haven't shown proof of vaccination ahead of an Oct. 18 deadline. In Massachusetts and Oregon, state troopers face firing for failing to meet vaccine requirements.

Shea, who's had COVID-19, said at de Blasio's city hall news briefing on Wednesday: "I would be supportive of a vaccine mandate. I've said that from day one. I think that the science, to health, the emergency situation that we're in, it makes sense."

Nigro voiced his support for a vaccine mandate Wednesday at a fire department event memorializing members who've died, including some from COVID-19.

"I think it will save lives," Nigro said. "We lost 16 members of this department. We have two families here today in tears, losing their family member to COVID. I think it's time, people had a long time to think about this for our members to be mandated. They're out there treating the public."

The city's largest police union, the Police Benevolent Association, said it has not been advised by the city or police department of any changes to the current vaccine or test policy. The union represents police personnel with the rank of officer — about 23,000 people on active duty with the department.

"In the PBA's view, the COVID-19 vaccine is a medical decision that members must make in consultation with their own healthcare providers," the union's president, Pat Lynch, said. "We have pushed to make the vaccine available to all members who seek it, and we will continue to protect the rights of members who are not vaccinated."