Written by By Anya Boranon, CNN
New York City’s firefighters will not be taking any sick time until a medical policy is changed to allow them to opt out of a new vaccine for infants, officials said Monday.
Some 4,000 to 5,000 of the city’s 6,000 firefighters received requests to opt out of the hepatitis B vaccine in November 2017, according to New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), one of several state and local agencies that recently enforced a new mandatory vaccine requirement for children entering kindergarten. The policy took effect in January 2018.
“We continue to work closely with the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) to expedite the process of exempting them from the new medical requirement,” DOHMH said in a statement Monday.
The department stated that an initial review found that some 12% of the responding firefighters also did not have up-to-date immunizations. However, to meet the ultimate goal of preventing communicable diseases among children, which is the intention of the mandate, officials said that union rules prohibit them from granting more exemptions.
Despite requesting that the department reconsider its protocols and reconsider their exempt decisions, so far the department has not changed its plans to exclude firefighters from the vaccine, a spokesperson from DOHMH told CNN.
Earlier this year, President Donald Trump issued an executive order that attempts to protect religious liberties and the free exercise of religion for employers, allowing them to place “discriminatory restrictions on employees who decline to … participate in acts of worship” for religious reasons.
But the National Fire Protection Association says about 12% of the population does not have up-to-date shots on the recommended vaccination schedule.
“This is another example of misguided decisions by the city government that is risking the health and safety of a bunch of children,” FDNY Chief Antonio Silveira told CNN affiliate NY1 on Friday.
“We need them to get the flu shots. We need them to stay healthy. We need them to be able to help their fellow brothers and sisters whenever they are needed,” he said.
Department officials say there are currently no immediate plans to close the department’s vaccination clinic.