Vaccine mandate raises concerns over worker shortage, especially first responders

Coronavirus

HONOLULU (KHON2) — There’s frustration among public workers as the vaccine mandate is set to take effect on Monday. There’s also concern that the mandate can lead to a shortage of workers.

First responders are already being stretched thin because of the pandemic and some of them say the vaccine mandate can only make things worse.

Those who don’t comply with the mandate can be suspended without pay and ultimately be fired. Some 1,200 first responders throughout the state are already fighting it through a class action lawsuit. There’s growing concern that there won’t be enough workers to ensure public safety.

“As far as Honolulu is concerned, we’re strapped,” said Bobby Lee, president of the Hawaii Fire Fighters Association. “Police, Fire, EMS, we’re all strapped and just trying to keep public safety going on a daily basis.”

In Honolulu, the fire department is trying to fill 100 vacancies. HPD is short more than 300 officers, and EMS could use 40 more workers.

As far as vaccination rates, HFD is 75%t fully vaccinated, and the same for HPD. EMS is at 80%. Lee points out that Honolulu also has the strictest mandate compared to other counties.

Those who don’t qualify for religious or medical exemption must get vaccinated. He says the differences between the counties cause even more problems.

“What causes the most damage is when the employers aren’t on the same page,” said Lee. “They’re not operating consistently across the state so you have a different jurisdictions coming out with different rules.”

Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi says workers will be given a few weeks to get the two shots so any suspensions wouldn’t take place for a few weeks. In that time, with cases rising at an alarming rate, people could change their minds.

“People have told me that I wasn’t going to get vaccinated but now I’m really scared and I feel motivated,” said Blangiardi. “Those people were on the edge. They just need some kind of convincing.”

He adds that the FDA should give full approval to the vaccine by then, and more businesses will require their workers to get vaccinated.

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“All we can do is appeal to people’s sense of reason with good medical facts and hope that they respond accordingly. That is really what I’m hoping for. I’ll say it again, I do not want to fire one single person, but we are going to leave this up to their choice,” said Blangiardi.

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