Firefighters are being encouraged to get the COVID-19 vaccine once it’s available, but none will be required to get it — and more than half of them, in a recent poll, said they wouldn’t get the shot.
The Uniformed Fire Officers Association addressed the poll and vaccine concerns on Dec. 6 with a press conference outside Engine Company 3 on West 19th Street in Chelsea. The conference was held in response to a New York Post report about the poll showing the majority of firefighters indicated they would avoid getting the vaccine.
Uniformed Fire Officers Association President Andrew Ansbro was joined by fellow officials for the press event, where he shared that he will be immunized and will be encouraging members of the department to also do so, but it will not be a requirement.
While 45% of firefighters are open to receiving the vaccine, the poll found that just over half of those working in the New York City Fire Department are unwilling to get vaccinated.
“The reasons for that are probably the same reasons everybody else does not want it — it’s a new vaccine, they don’t have enough information, but also you have to keep in mind that 35% of New York City Firefighters have been infected and/or have overcome the virus. A lot of these members feel that they have antibodies and are not an at-risk category. As a union, we are encouraging members to get the vaccine, but we are defending their right to make that choice,” said Ansbro.
The poll came out as more than 125 firefighters are currently on leave due to being infected with the COVID-19 virus. Ansbro told amNewYork Metro that while they are actively advocating those in the department to get inoculated on their days off, they will not take disciplinary action against those who decline treatment.
“This is a personal choice, that [disciplinary action] was never on the table,” he said.
For those who would like to receive the vaccine, Ansbro shared that the FDNY is working on a plan to disseminate it in an orderly fashion while firefighters are off duty. He believes that if the vaccine is distributing per department, and an entire unit is allocated in another location, this could pose a danger.
An example of this would be the 6-alarm fire that occurred in the East Village on Dec. 5 that gutted the Middle Collegiate Church. Ansbro said that 40 units were present with more than 100 firefighters working. If these individuals were scheduled to receive the vaccine, it would have been wasted because the department was busy.
“We are advocating for our members to get this vaccine in an orderly fashion off duty. It just makes more sense. You can’t schedule people in the fire department for a vaccine of this type where it’s volatile. It also has a short shelf life once it’s stored,” he said. “If they pour out too many doses and something comes in, a large fire, those doses may go to waste. This vaccine is far too important to leave it to chance. That’s why I’m advocating for my members to have access to this vaccine scheduled and off duty.”
In regard to the public concern over interacting with company firefighters, Ansbro said that hastn’t changed because of the pandemic.
“If we are all wearing our masks, we are not a danger to the public. I don’t think anyone failed to call us in the last eight months. If your house is on fire you are not exactly worried about the virus,” said Ansbro.
FDNY members are expected to gain accesses to the vaccine before the end of the year.