When New York City announced that city workers—including cops–would have to be vaccinated against COVID-19, there was howling, threats, and promises that thousands would walk off the job or retire, turning the city into a dangerous, crime-ridden hellscape.
Just last week, 50,000 municipal workers, including members of the NYPD, staged a dramatic protest on the Brooklyn Bridge against the mandate.
Then, just a few days after the city’s mandate took hold, a mere 34 officers out of 35,000 quit. Even better, the NYPD’s vaccination rate is up to 84 percent, a 14 percent increase in the last two weeks, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio, and up from just 40 percent this past summer.
Rather than a public safety apocalypse, New York City found out something else: Vaccine mandates are actually working as intended.
The new statistics are evidence that officers were willing to get jabbed after all, despite protests from local unions like the Police Benevolent Association, which claimed as many as 10,000 officers were considering resignation over the mandate.
Brian Higgins, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York and a former police chief for the Bergen County Police Department, told VICE News he suspected the bluster wouldn’t amount to much.
“When any agency or governing body holds the line and says ‘Look, this is a requirement of your employment, and you can no longer remain employed here or you won’t get paid without following it,’ it almost becomes a game of chicken,” Higgins said. “When these governing bodies actually follow through, you have to make a decision between getting paid and keeping your job, and getting this vaccine.”
For most officers faced with that choice in New York City, the decision was to get the vaccine.
The remaining officers who haven’t been vaccinated are currently waiting to hear if they’ll be allowed an exemption for medical or religious reasons, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said during the mayor’s press conference Monday.
The mayor’s update on vaccine rates in the city make a pretty strong case for government vaccine mandates. After all, New York City is just one example of mandates working as intended. In Los Angeles, where vaccine mandates for city workers are set to kick in on Thursday, the current vaccination rate among LAPD officers sat at 71 percent as of October 19, according to the Los Angeles Daily News. That figure was up 25 percent compared to two months before, the outlet reported.
When San Francisco’s vaccine mandate took effect Oct. 13, just 10 percent of SFPD officers, 118 of its 2,113 members, remained unvaccinated. In Washington State, vaccine rates among State Patrol officers doubled to 93 percent compared to what it was three weeks prior to the city’s mandate, according to the Seattle Times.
Denver police vaccination rates rose to 98 percent once the city’s mandate began Oct. 1, compared to 74 percent of officers who reported being vaccinated less than two weeks prior.
“Many of the cops who were pushing back were already vaccinated. They just don't like the idea that they're being mandated.”
A big part of why so many officers may have chosen to just get the vaccine, after all, is due to what defying the mandate actually entails: lengthy legal proceedings and missing out on their relatively good wages and pensions.
“There are going to be those, although the numbers are small, who will just absolutely refuse to get the vaccine, and either retire or they think they're going to fight this by getting fired or no longer receiving pay in order to challenge the mandate,” Higgins said. “But that takes a long time and a lot of money to do that.”
But it doesn’t mean some U.S. officers aren’t following through. In Chicago, for example, where the vaccine rate still hovered around 64 percent as of last month, there is still pushback against the city’s mandate. And just recently they were handed a major victory as a judge froze the city’s Dec. 31 vaccine deadline this week.
But much of the back and forth over mandates was never about distrust in the vaccine itself, Higgins said. Among the officers he’s talked to in recent weeks, the pushback was mostly over local government enforcing new, un-negotiated rules and terms of their employment.
“Many of the cops who were pushing back were already vaccinated,” he said. “They just don't like the idea that they're being mandated. So what we're seeing now are those who are reporting that they were unvaccinated, when in fact, they just didn't want to report that. Some were just holding out as long as they could. Others may have been waiting to see how pushback efforts would go before getting vaccinated ahead of the deadline.”
New York’s Finest weren’t the only city workers to see spikes in the weeks leading up to the mandate deadline, according to the mayor’s update Monday.
Vaccination rates among city firefighters increased to 77 percent as of Nov. 1 from 58 percent on Oct. 20. The vaccine rate for emergency medical service workers sits at 88 percent as of Nov. 1, compared to 61 percent two weeks ago. And sanitation worker vaccine rates are at 83 percent, compared to 62 percent two weeks ago.
Still, these numbers are behind the city’s overall vaccine rate among all employees of the city. In total, 91 percent of the city's 378,000 employees are vaccinated.
COVID-19 has been especially deadly for the law enforcement community. Since last year, the virus has been the leading cause of death among police officers, according to a report published by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. However, vaccination rates continued to lag for the better part of the year, despite officers being among the first to be eligible for the vaccine.
“The profession is very hardheaded,” Dr. David Thomas, a retired police officer and justice studies professor at Florida Gulf Coast University, told VICE News in August. “It is a profession where historically someone has to die before there is change. It’s scary, but it’s true.”