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More than half of New York City firefighters say they won’t be vaccinated for COVID-19 when the potentially life-saving shot becomes available to first responders in a matter of weeks, according to a new internal survey.
About 55 percent of 2,053 smoke-eaters polled in the last three days by their union, the Uniformed Firefighters Association, answered “No” when asked, “Will you get the COVID-19 Vaccine from Pfizer when the Department makes it available?” UFA President Andy Ansbro told The Post. The responses account for about 25 percent of the UFA’s 8,200 active members.
The stunning anti-vax response follows an August survey of MTA workers that showed only 30 percent of 645 respondents were definitely willing to be vaccinated. Thirty-eight percent were unsure and 32 percent said they would not take the vaccine, according to the poll of Transport Workers Union members conducted by the NYU School of Global Public Health.
If the survey results become the reality, it would mean thousands of NYC’s first responders and other essential frontline workers would continue to be vulnerable to the virus and remain potential spreaders.
The FDNY announced last week it would not make the vaccine mandatory for its members, a policy expected to be followed by all city agencies and even hospitals.
The data comes as Trump pandemic advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said that most healthy Americans should not expect to be vaccinated before the spring, as the first shots are rolled out to health care workers, the elderly and the medically vulnerable.
“A healthy non-elderly person with no recognizable underlying conditions, will likely start . . . in the end of March, early April. Once you get into April, probably full blast with those individuals,” Fauci said during a CNN town hall Friday — the same day the city reported positive coronavirus test results doubled in the past month.
Among firefighters, positive tests have tripled during that time, according to an FDNY source, who said that as of Friday there were more than 130 positive cases in the department’s ranks. At least six firehouses have three or more cases.
Vaccine acceptance is a matter of trust, it seems.
NYU researchers said of the reluctant transit workers, “The main reason for not taking it or being unsure was the lack of trust in its safety.” Respondents said “the main sources of trusted, reliable information included: personal healthcare provider, CDC, Governor Cuomo and the TWU leadership.
“A sizeable portion said they no longer trust anyone,” researchers wrote.
Many healthy firefighters in their 30s and 40s have become less fearful of the virus as they’ve overcome it themselves or know of colleagues who bounced back after a diagnosis, Ansbro said.
“A lot of them probably feel they are not in a risk category, they are younger, stronger, they may have already had it and gotten through it, and feel it’s not their problem,” Ansbro said. “They are more familiar with the coronavirus than they are with the vaccine.”
Ansbro said he plans to receive it himself.
EMS workers, who will be among the FDNY members to receive the vaccine early, have also been vocal in their skepticism, according to Oren Barzilay, president of the Uniformed EMTs, Paramedics and Fire Inspectors union.
“A few are anxious to get it, but there have been a few dozen responses saying, ‘Thanks, but no thanks,’” Barzilay said of online chatter. “They were thankful it was not mandatory, because they don’t want to be looked at as test subjects.”
Barzilay said, “I personally am going to wait and see what the side effects are, what the independent studies show” before being vaccinated.
An veteran FDNY member expressed frustration with the naysayers, and believes first responders getting vaccinated is a public health necessity.
“The 55 percent doesn’t surprise me. They’re called the Bravest, not the Smartest,” the source said.
“It’s saving their lives, and the lives of their co-workers, families, friends, and the people they take care of. They respond to live-threatening medical emergencies. The last thing you want is a family member in dire straits being worked on by an unvaccinated firefighter.”
Some policy experts believe mandatory vaccines — which have been touted as safe and 95-percent effective by their manufacturers — are the best way to protect the public.
“It may become necessary to require that certain individuals or communities be vaccinated, such as health care workers and students, to protect the public’s health,” Mary Beth Morrissey, a research fellow at Fordham University and chair of the New York State Bar Association’s COVID-19 task force, said in a statement announcing a resolution calling upon the state to consider mandating a vaccine.
Mistrust has also been apparent in the general population. According to a yet-to-be-released survey of New Yorkers taken by the city Health Department in October, just over 50 percent say they will be vaccinated.
Nationwide, the number is at about 58 percent, according to a September Gallup poll — taken before drug companies Pfizer and Moderna made announcements in early November about the 95-percent efficacy of their vaccines.
“There’s an underlying issue with rising vaccine hesitancy and within certain communities and groups, that percentage is much higher than what we see nationally,” said Rachael Piltch-Loeb, a public health expert who worked on the TWU study.
Reasons for not wanting to be vaccinated are wide-ranging and depend demographics; religious, political and geographical affiliations; and experience with the virus thus far, Piltch-Loeb said.
Among beleaguered essential workers, levels of mistrust could be even higher, Piltch-Loeb said.
“There’s been a lot of misinformation, a lot of mistrust in government messaging, how the pandemic’s been handled, and a lot of distaste among certain essential workers how they really were not prioritized to receive PPE,” she said.
“We want to encourage essential workers to get the vaccine, but we need to be super conscientious about how much we ask of essential workers.”
Some teachers are also pushing back on any madatory COVID vaccine. A group called NY Teachers Against Vaccine Mandates for Educators has collected nearly 10,000 petition signatures.
Others said the group is the minority: “Almost every teacher I know believes in science and would support mandatory vaccinations,” said Liat Olenick, a Brooklyn elementary-school teacher.
The city’s Health and Hospitals Corp. is preparing to distribute the vaccine “as soon as it becomes available,” but will not mandate workers at the city’s 11 public hospitals take it.
The Police Benevolent Association, which represents 40,000 rank-and-file NYPD officers, said it is encouraging the city to distribute the vaccine to cops as soon as possible — but on a voluntary basis.
“As we did with PPE and testing, the PBA will press for the vaccine to be made available to our members as early as possible,” said President Patrick J. Lynch. “If the goal is to stop the spread everywhere, we should prioritize protections for the first responders whose duties take us into every corner of the city.”
The state expects to receive 170,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine on Dec. 15, pending emergency approval from the Food and Drug Administration. The company is scheduled to present the vaccine, which it says is 95 percent effective, to the FDA and Centers for Disease Control for approval on Thursday. Moderna’s vaccine is scheduled for review a week later.
Additional reporting by Susan Edelman
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