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LA firefighters, police should support mandates

It does not bode well for Los Angeles or the end of the pandemic that so many city firefighters and police officers have refused to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and are opposing the city’s vaccine mandate for employees.

The Times recently reported that a group of city firefighters have launched a protest effort, Firefighters for Freedom, “to stop the mandated vaccinations for all city employees as well as the citizens of this great country.” Some 350 firefighters are working with an attorney to block the mandate. And “hundreds” of sworn and civilian Los Angeles Police Department staff have joined Roll Call 4 Freedom, a subgroup of the firefighters’ effort.

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These are men and women who have vowed to “protect and serve” and to “preserve life.” They are the city’s emergency responders and front-line medical providers, responding to car accidents, heart attacks, strokes and other events that put them in close, often physical contact with vulnerable Angelenos every day.

Yet, now in a pandemic that has killed more than 25,000 people in L.A. County and with the delta variant causing a resurgence in cases, a disturbingly high number of L.A.’s first responders have decided, duty be damned, it’s more important to fight against public health and for their right to spread COVID-19.

Some sworn personnel aren’t just rejecting vaccinations, they’re refusing to wear masks indoors. One firefighter declared on a radio talk show, “I will not wear a mask. I’m not going to test. And I will not get a shot.”

Sadly, the backlash isn’t surprising. There’s a been a strong current of vaccine skepticism in the policing and public safety sector, fed by conservative commentators and conspiracy theorists, even though they were among those first in line for vaccinations. For months, L.A. leaders have tried to educate, coax and incentivize the holdouts to get the shots. Just over half of the city’s police officers and firefighters have been fully vaccinated.

Last month, Mayor Eric Garcetti signed an ordinance that requires city employees to be vaccinated by early October. Employees with medical conditions or “sincerely held religious beliefs” can request an exemption — and apparently hundreds of workers have indicated they will do so. But those with exemptions must submit to regular testing.

What happens if a city employee refuses to get vaccinated is unclear.

Los Angeles Fire Captain Cristian Granucci recorded a video of himself criticizing the city’s new COVID-19 vaccination requirement.

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The mantra of vaccine mandate opponents is personal freedom — “My body, my choice.” But let’s be clear: People should have a right to decide what goes into their bodies, including lifesaving medication and vaccines, but not the right to endanger the health of other people.

All those Firefighters for Freedom can refuse the COVID-19 vaccine and gamble with their health and lives as an expression of their personal freedom. They just can’t stay on the job and put the public and their coworkers at risk while they are doing so. We’re still in a public health emergency. If a firefighter or police officer is unwilling to take basic precautions to protect others, then he or she should find another career.

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