ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Police officers and first responders in New Mexico’s largest city would be ordered to get vaccinated against COVID-19 under a proposed amendment to the city’s emergency public health declaration.
Elected officials in Albuquerque already have acknowledged that the police force and the fire and rescue department have been overburdened even before the start of the pandemic with persistent violent crime, skyrocketing homelessness and other calls. It was expected that the measure scheduled to be introduced during Monday’s City Council meeting would get a chilly response from union membership.
The sponsor of the measure, Democratic City Councilor Isaac Benton, did not answer questions ahead of Monday’s meeting about the potential effects or how the city could fill any gaps in emergency services that would likely result. Democratic Mayor Tim Keller, who is running for reelection, did not immediately say Monday if he would support the amendment.
The push for mandatory vaccines among public safety workers in Albuquerque comes as police and firefighter unions as well as individual officers and first responders across the U.S. are pushing back by filing lawsuits to block mandates.
In Seattle, the police department was forced to send detectives and non-patrol officers to emergency calls last week because of a shortage of patrol officers that union leaders fear will become worse because of vaccine mandates. In Chicago, union officials said more than 3,000 officers were refusing that city’s mandate, with union leaders saying it was illegal because the city failed to negotiate the terms with the union.
There also have been protests by health care workers about similar mandates within their professions, and dozens of scientists, researchers and other workers at Los Alamos National Laboratory — the birthplace of the atomic bomb — also are suing over the lab’s vaccine mandate.
The language of Albuquerque’s proposed amendment states that the pandemic is a unique crisis that continues to spread through New Mexico and those city employees who become sick can’t adequately perform their duties, which disrupts the orderly operation of the city government.
Many officers and first responders have questioned the purpose of the mandates, noting that they worked throughout the pandemic under the same conditions and shouldn’t be forced to get shots now, even as the number of cases is far fewer than during the peak.
In New Mexico, health officials have said COVID-19 cases have plateaued but they are still concerned about the level of community spread.
About 72 percent of adults in the state are fully vaccinated but that percentage hasn’t changed much in recent weeks.
Albuquerque’s vaccine requirement would apply to all city public safety workers. If an exemption is granted, the worker would have to provide proof of negative COVID-19 testing every week.
The mandate would take effect no later than three weeks after approval. The council could vote as soon as mid-November.
A vaccine mandate was imposed by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham earlier this year for all state workers. Meanwhile, Bernalillo County officials have said they did not plan to require vaccines, pointing to staffing concerns.