Police and fire department recruits in Oklahoma City must be vaccinated or be willing to get the vaccine in order to start training, according to spokespeople for both departments.
The move comes as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave full approval to Pfizer’s two-shot vaccine this week.
The city has not yet made vaccination mandatory for existing officers and firefighters, because the move would require collective bargaining with police and fire unions. About 67 percent of Oklahoma City Fire Department employees and 62 percent of police department employees have already received at least one shot through the city, Kristi Yager, a municipal spokeswoman, said in an email.
“Overall about 60 percent of all employees have been vaccinated through the City,” Yager wrote. “We have no idea how many employees chose to get their vaccinations through another source.”
The National Fraternal Order of Police, which tracks the number of officers who have died from COVID-19 in the line of duty, says that 578 officers nationwide have died due to the virus, including seven from Oklahoma. A study released earlier this year based on data from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund found that more active-duty officers died of COVID-19 last year than from all other causes combined.
Cameron Weems, the president of Oklahoma City Firefighters union, said some firefighters had expressed concern to him about the vaccine mandate for recruits.
“I don’t know if their concern was for the recruits or about if it would eventually affect them,” Weems said. “You’re talking about recruits who are not union members yet, so it can be mandated for them. Personally I’m for the vaccine and I want everyone to get the vaccine.”
Weems said if the city decided it wanted to mandate vaccines for all firefighters, that “would be a bridge we would cross at that time.”
Yager told The Frontier the city has tried to boost vaccination rates for municipal employees who are willing to be vaccinated by hosting pop-up vaccine events at work sites across the city.
“We’re really trying to remove all barriers to vaccination,” Yager said. “It’s easy for them, it’s right there, so if they have been thinking about it but haven’t gotten vaccinated yet, they can jump on it.”
City of Oklahoma City employees are required to wear masks indoors and while working with others, she said, but the general public is not required to wear a mask to enter City Hall.
In Tulsa, city employees are not required to be vaccinated, but masks are mandatory for anyone entering City Hall “regardless of vaccination status,” City of Tulsa spokeswoman Michelle Brooks said. The City of Tulsa provides KN95 masks to municipal employees, she said.
“We provide free medical guidance to employees trying to evaluate their health risks if they do or do not get vaccinated,” Brooks said. “And we are currently looking at what other employers have done to incentivize vaccination.”
Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Aaron Brilbeck said vaccines and masks are “strongly encouraged” for deputies and reserve deputy forces, but are not required.
There are no vaccine mandates for Tulsa police officers, and department spokesman Danny Bean told The Frontier that TPD has no mandates for its recruiting class.
The Tulsa Fire Department did not respond to requests for comment.
Casey Roebuck, a spokeswoman for the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office, said TCSO has offered vaccinations to all of its employees as well as for inmates in the county jail. Roebuck said the agency does not track the vaccination status of employees.
“It’s a medical thing,” she said. “So unless they want to offer that information to us, we do not know.”
Last week, the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office said one of its deputies, 43-year-old Sgt. John Harris, died from COVID-19. He had been hospitalized since late July, according to the sheriff’s office. Harris was responsible for the Officer Assistance Program at the sheriff’s office, which provides counseling and mental health services to deputies and other officers from across the state.
Harris’ funeral will be held Friday at Victory Christian Church in Tulsa.