With some first-responders balking at getting the coronavirus vaccine across Southern Arizona, Pima County is considering whether it can require the shot for certain jobs and new hires.
In a Feb. 8 memo, County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry wrote that “it seems appropriate” that all new hires be required to be vaccinated along with those in jobs working with people who receive services from the county, such as detention centers.
Taking the approach that the county has “a responsibility to keep the public safe,” Cathy Bohland, director of Human Resources, laid out what might be ahead in a three-page memo to Huckelberry on Feb. 2. Among her points:
•The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued guidance that employers can require vaccination, but it carries no legal weight.
•Bohland said there could be a “substanial increase” in accommodation requests for those who don’t want to get the vaccine. Requests could be tied to a medical disability or “a sincerely held religious belief.”
•There could be what Bohland calls “reluctant employees,” those who don’t meet an exemption but aren’t comfortable with the vaccine. She said Pima County will need to determine whether it will fire those employees. She suggested a survey to see how employees feel about the vaccinations.
•The county might benefit from approaching this as a voluntary decision by the employee. This preserves employee autonomy and spare the county numerous potential issues.
•If the county requires vaccinations for some groups of employees, anybody who can’t socially distance in the office should be vaccinated.
Bohland said it “could be problematic if we require only certain classifications/employees to get vaccinated.” She said all employees can expose each other, “so from a safety perspective, if we are requiring the vaccine to keep employees in the workplace safe, all employees should be required to be vaccinated.”
The board will consider the request March 16.
Declining the vaccine
Nationwide, front-line workers have been declining the vaccine, at times in high numbers. California officials reported last week that half of its prison employees are reluctant to get vaccinated.
An informal internal poll of the Los Angeles Police Department in January showed 60 percent willing to get the vaccine; 20 percent wanted more information and 20 percent said they would decline.
In Arizona, the numbers aren’t much different.
In Cochise County, 39 percent of employees in the Sheriff’s Department said they would get vaccinated. The rest either declined or did not respond to a department request. The Sierra Vista Police Department had 56 percent declining or not answering the survey.
The Graham County Health Department said roughly a third to half of first responders are declining the vaccine.
The Pima Police Department, near Safford, is avoiding taking the vaccine as a whole, said Pima Police Chief Dian Cauthen. She couldn’t say why her officers have declined, but said she doesn’t trust the vaccine at this time.
Vaccinations for Town of Sahuarita employees are voluntary. As of last week, 19 of the 59 sworn and civilian police department employees had been vaccinated.
Schools in Bisbee are considering making the vaccine mandatory for teachers and staff.