SAN FRANCISCO — In an announcement Wednesday evening, the city of San Francisco told its 37,000 employees they must either be vaccinated for COVID-19 within 10 weeks of the Food and Drug Administration giving final approval to a coronavirus vaccine or lose their jobs.
This would make San Francisco the first large U.S. city to require vaccination of all city employees.
"It's quite straightforward – it's my job to protect the safety of our employees, I am exercising my duty under the San Francisco charter to do just that," said Carol Isen, the human resources director for the City and County of San Francisco.
Currently, all COVID-19 vaccines being used in the United States were approved by FDA under what's known as an Emergency Use Authorization, an expedited process. The emergency use is an authority that Congress gave to FDA after the 9/11 terrorist attacks to allow countermeasures, treatments or vaccines to be available earlier than would normally be done under the approval process.
The full drug approval process takes longer. Some have used the fact that the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have all been issued under emergency use as a reason to doubt their safety.
Pfizer and its German collaborator BioNTech submitted an application to the FDA for full approval of their COVID-19 vaccine on May 7. Moderna did so on June 1.
The San Francisco policy requires all staff to report their vaccination status to the city no later than July 29 as a condition of employment. To do so, they must upload a copy of their COVID-19 vaccination card or documentation of vaccination from their healthcare provider.
Medical exemptions will be available for employees with medical conditions that affect their eligibility for a vaccine but they must be verified by their medical provider.
A "sincerely held religious belief that prohibits them from receiving a vaccine" could also be grounds for an exemption, according to the city's vaccination policy. Those requests will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
"The burden would be on the employee to establish a sincerely held religious belief," Isen said.
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Currently, about 60% of San Francisco employees have told the city they are vaccinated, Isen said.
The city informed local unions that the requirement was coming. Several unions that city employees belong to already hold vaccination sites at their union halls or host neighborhood vaccination fairs. The city plans to meet with the unions later this week to further discuss the policy, Isen said.
The new policy will protect employees and also save taxpayers money. Workers' compensation claims for San Francisco employees who are exposed to COVID-19 at work and cannot work because they are sick with COVID have already cost San Francisco close to $3 million, Isen said.
"That is a huge incentive for us, because that is a cost we have to bear – the simple, easy, safe and straightforward solution is that every employee become vaccinated," she said.
Isen said she hoped that when surrounding communities see what San Francisco has done, others will follow suit.
"The science is absolutely clear," Isen said. "If you're vaccinated, you have the forcefield. Unvaccinated, you're really a big risk to yourself and the people around you."