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San Jose police union releases plan to ease vaccine mandate opposition

The proposal’s subtext is that the union doesn’t want officers resigning or getting terminated over vaccine hesitance

San Jose Police Department

San Jose Police Department

By Robert Salonga
Mercury News

SAN JOSE, Calif. — With COVID-19 vaccination rates going from sluggish to swiftly improving among San Jose police officers as some skepticism lingers about vaccine integrity their union has formed a plan to address the city’s new vaccine and testing mandate, and head off potential staffing reductions resulting from noncompliance.

The San Jose Police Officers’ Association, citing its meet-and-confer rights, has proposed a plan to reconcile the police department’s approximately 1,150 sworn officers with a city mandate for vaccination or weekly testing for municipal employees. Most of the proposal outlines accommodations related to vaccination and testing, including provisions for medical or religious exemptions.

But the strong subtext of the proposal is that the union doesn’t want to see officers resigning, being put on unpaid leave, or getting terminated because of vaccine hesitance or opposition.

Language in the proposal specifically cites how similar plans are already in place for the federal and state government, and references this week’s full FDA approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine as an incentive for officers to get inoculated, especially with the highly infectious delta variant of the virus spreading throughout the country.

“This proposal really does strike a balance in maintaining safety and preventing the spread of the virus,” union President Sean Pritchard said. “We have and continue to encourage our members to get vaccinated. However, we also respect an individual’s decision on something that impacts them and their families.”

Officers’ vaccination adherence has sharply increased after being initially underwhelming, with the police department reporting that 86% of sworn staff has gotten at least one vaccine dose. That represents a jump from the 50% to 55% estimate reported earlier in the summer.

The estimated fully vaccinated rate for the overall Santa Clara County population is just above 80%.

According to a source connected to SJPD, there are at least 200 officers who still have not gotten vaccinated, or whose vaccination status is unknown. The source said some of the vaccine opposition is rooted in assertions of personal liberties, but that some officers are openly subscribing to conspiracy theories and debunked misinformation about the vaccines, including the idea that the shots are purported vehicles for government-tracking microchips.

The risk for officers and who they contact is especially pronounced given the public-facing nature of their jobs.

“The overwhelming message from our employee leaders is to require vaccination to protect the health of all of our city employees,” Mayor Sam Liccardo said earlier this month regarding the employee mandate. “And we also have an obligation to our larger community and as long as city employees will be interacting with our community, we must ensure they can do so safely.”

For instance, as recently as Tuesday, San Jose police officers were tasked with clearing out the city council chambers of unmasked people protesting the mayor and council’s plan to require proof vaccination for entry to large city-owned event venues including the SAP Center and several theaters, museums and the main convention center downtown.

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(c)2021 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)