New York City agencies won’t meet a self-imposed deadline to review the estimated 14,400 requests for COVID-19 vaccine exemptions, Mayor Bill de Blasio confirmed at a press 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 being vetted. Citywide, the number of new coronavirus infections and positivity rate are ticking upward, driven primarily by unvaccinated people.
The Citywide Office of Administrative Services had set a Thanksgiving deadline, by which all determinations and appeals were supposed to be settled. But at his regular briefing a day ahead of the cutoff, de Blasio admitted the city was nowhere close to meeting that timeframe. The city’s COVID-19 vaccine took full effect on November 1st.
“It’s obviously way too big a number to get through on that timeline,” he said. Asked how many applications had been reviewed, de Blasio declined to give specifics, except that “relatively few” had been completed. He also refused to set forth a new timeline for when exemptions would be reviewed.
By Monday, the city’s workforce had a vaccination rate of 94% according to city data. But the NYPD, Department of Sanitation and New York City firefighters are still lagging behind. All have coverage rates below 90%.
“Each agency is purposefully working through them. They’ll get the job done by definition,” de Blasio said. His press office didn’t return a request for clarification.
NYPD officers had applied for three times as many religious and medical exemptions as any other city agency. Speaking on NY1 Tuesday morning, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said so far the agency had made it through 1,100 of those requests and denied most of them -- but he did not provide a precise number of rejections. Several hundred of those people have since gotten vaccinated, he said, adding that he expected others to appeal their denials.
“There was a very small number that were granted exemptions and those notifications went out in the last 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 at 72%. But its officers received an extended deadline relative to other municipal workers under the mandate. Correction officers have until December 1st to take a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine. The extension was granted due to ongoing concerns about low staffing levels at the Rikers jail complex which has contributed to worsening conditions there.
De Blasio has promised to take a strict interpretation on who would be approved for religious and medical exemptions. In line with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only workers with severe allergies to the COVID-19 vaccines -- which are rare -- will be allotted permanent medical exemptions. Religious exemptions will be approved based on a person’s “sincerely held religious, moral or ethical belief.” Personal, political or philosophical preferences won’t cut it, according to city guidance.
Elizabeth Kim contributed reporting.