Up to half of Chicago's rank-and-file police officers could be placed on unpaid leave starting Friday because of a dispute between their union and Mayor Lori Lightfoot over a city requirement for officers to disclose their vaccine status.
The dispute in Chicago is emblematic of tension across the country between unions and employers as cities and businesses seek to enforce vaccine mandates. At least 228 officers have died of Covid-19 this year compared to 245 last year, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.
Covid is the leading cause of death for officers despite them being among the first groups having access to the vaccine at the end of last year.
At least 120 officers in San Francisco will be off the street after failing to comply with the city's vaccine mandate, CNN affiliate KGO reported. Eighty of the 120 police officers work in the department's patrol division, San Francisco Police Officers Association vice president Tracy McCray said.
In a message to officers in Chicago, their union president framed the issue as an employment dispute between the city and the officers.
"I've made my status very clear as far as the vaccine, but I do not believe the city has the authority to mandate that to anybody let alone that information about your medical history and change the terms of employment so to speak on the fly," said John Catanzara, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) lodge. Earlier this month, the former president of the union died of Covid. He served as president from 2014 until 2017.
Officers in Chicago have a deadline of midnight Thursday to disclose their vaccine status to the city or be placed on unpaid leave. Catanzara said up to 50 percent of the officers could be placed on unpaid leave. Lightfoot's office didn't respond Thursday to a request for comment.
She has a news conference planned for the afternoon.
"If we suspect the numbers are true and we get a large number of our members who stand firm on their beliefs that this is an overreach, and they're not going to supply the information in the portal or submit to testing, then it's safe to say the city of Chicago will have a police force at 50% or less for this weekend coming up," Catanzara said. "That is not because of the FOP, that is 100% because of the mayor's unwillingness to budge from her hard line so whatever happens because of the manpower issue, that falls at the mayor's doorstep."
Catanzara said the FOP would be seeking a temporary restraining order against the city that would stop them from enforcing the mandate, and said the union planned to file an unfair labor practice charge against the city over their failure to bargain with the union over this issue.
It's not clear if the union has followed through with either of those actions, and Catanzara didn't respond to a request for comment. Lightfoot, at a press conference Wednesday, said she welcomed a potential lawsuit from the FOP.
"He's threatening litigation. I say, bring it," she said.
Here's who is eligible for Pfizer booster shots in the US. An explainer.
Who should get the Pfizer booster?
Who else can consider getting it?
What are the side effects?
Weren't some people already eligible for a third dose?
What if I got Moderna? Can I get a Pfizer booster?
What if I got J&J?
Where can I get my booster?
Are boosters free?
Am I 'fully vaccinated' without a booster?
Why were boosters so hotly debated?
Are other countries offering boosters?
US booster shots start, even as millions remain unprotected
The U.S. launched a campaign to offer boosters of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine to millions of Americans on Friday even as federal health officials stressed the real problem remains getting first shots to the unvaccinated.
“We will not boost our way out of this pandemic,” warned Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — even though she took the rare step of overruling the advice of her own expert panel to make more people eligible for the booster.
The vast majority of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are among the unvaccinated, Walensky noted. And all three COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. offer strong protection against severe illness, hospitalization and death despite the extra-contagious delta variant that caused cases to soar. But immunity against milder infection appears to wane months after initial vaccination.
People anxious for another Pfizer dose lost no time rolling up their sleeves after Walensky ruled late Thursday on who's eligible: Americans 65 and older and others vulnerable because of underlying health problems or where they work and live — once they're six months past their last dose.
Jen Peck, 52, of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, qualified because of her job as an education math and science consultant. She was vaccinated back in March but worries about unknowingly picking up and spreading an infection. She travels between rural schools where many students and teachers don't wear masks and the younger children can't yet be vaccinated.
“I don’t want to be COVID Mary carrying it around to buildings full of unvaccinated kiddos. I could not live with myself if I carried it from one building to another. That haunts me, the thought of that,” said Peck, who got the extra shot first thing Friday morning.
Health officials must clear up confusion over who should get a booster, and why. For now, the booster campaign is what Walensky called “a first step.” It only applies to people originally vaccinated with shots made by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech. Decisions on boosters for Americans who received Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines are still to come.
President Joe Biden said if you're vaccinated, “You’re in good shape and we’re doing everything we can to keep it that way, which is where the booster comes in.” He urged those now eligible for an extra shot to “go get the booster," saying he'd get his own soon — and that everyone should be patient and wait their turn.
Exactly who should get a booster was a contentious decision as CDC advisers spent two days poring over the evidence. Walensky endorsed most of their choices: People 65 and older, nursing home residents and those ages 50 to 64 who have chronic health problems such as diabetes should be offered one once they're six months past their last Pfizer dose. Those 18 and older with health problems can decide for themselves if they want a booster.
But in an extremely unusual move, Walensky overruled her advisers' objections and decided an additional broad swath of the population also qualifies: People at increased risk of infection — not serious illness — because of their jobs or their living conditions. That includes health care workers, teachers and people in jails or homeless shelters.
“This was scientific close call,” Walensky said Friday. “In that situation it was my call to make.”
Experts say it was only the second time since 2000 that a CDC director overruled its advisory panel.
Health care workers can't come to work if they have even a mild infection and hospitals worried about staffing shortages welcomed that decision.
But some of the CDC's advisers worry that offering boosters so broadly could backfire without better evidence that it really will make a difference beyond the most medically vulnerable.
“My hope is that all of this confusion – or what may feel like confusion – doesn’t send a message to the public that there is any problem with the vaccine,” said Dr. Beth Bell, a University of Washington expert. "I want to make sure people understand these are fantastic vaccines and they work extremely well.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious disease specialist, cautioned against seeking a Pfizer booster before the recommended six-month mark.
“You get much more of a bang out of the shot” by letting the immune system mature that long so it’s prepared to rev up production of virus-fighting antibodies, he explained.
The U.S. had already authorized third doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for certain people with weakened immune systems, such as cancer patients and transplant recipients. Other Americans, healthy or not, have managed to get boosters, in some cases simply by asking.
About 182 million Americans are fully vaccinated, or just 55% of the total population. Three-quarters of those 12 and older — the ages eligible for vaccination — have had a first dose.
Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire in New York, Zeke Miller in Washington and Todd Richmond in Madison, Wisconsin contributed reporting.
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