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With omicron bearing down on Boston, officials say they had little choice but to require employees to get Covid-19 shots

In court filings this week, Boston officials say they ordered employees to show proof of Covid-19 vaccination not just to protect them, but to protect the public they serve.

The filings come in response to a Suffolk Superior Court suit by unions representing firefighters and police superior officers and detectives, who are asking a judge to do what no judge in Massachusetts has done so far: Block the city from enforcing its vaccine requirement. With the mandate set to begin on Saturday, a ruling on their request for an injunction could come this week.

In their main filing in opposition to the union request, the city said agreements signed by acting Mayor Kim Janey and unions never barred the city from enacting a vaccine mandate, that collective bargaining cannot constrain public agencies from carrying out their basic purposes and that the rapid spread of the far more virulent omicron strain have made public-health considerations paramount and enough to outweigh any collective-bargaining rights the unions might have.

To date, both Massachusetts state and federal judges have sided with government on the issue, in suits involving MBTA workers, state troopers and prison guards.

In an affidavit, Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission, pointed to the direct interaction the public has with police officers and firefighters and said the far more virulent omicron strain had made the weekly testing the city had allowed for employees impractical as a method to stop the virus's spread.

Those requiring public services, in particular those provided by the employees Plaintiffs represent, do not have an option in most instances regarding whether to seek such services and/or to interact with these City employees. Police and Fire services often require these city employees to enter the homes of citizens or have extremely close contact with citizens, including vulnerable populations such as the elderly, children who cannot be vaccinated and/or citizens who have compromised immune systems. Accordingly, by ensuring its employees are vaccinated, the City significantly reduces health and safety risks to the public requiring such services.

She added:

Covid-19 testing, while useful, is a point-in-time measure of infection and testing once per week does not sufficiently ensure that an unvaccinated individual does not have Covid-19 at all other points in time during the week. While testing can help detect infection, it cannot prevent infection.

Further, even with the more virulent omicron strain and even with the risk of breakthrough infections, scientific studies have shown vaccination reduces the odds of hospitalization - reducing the burden on the city's hospitals and on city departments with sick employees - and decreases the amount of time somebody is infectious, she wrote.

Ojikutu said she and her advisors began to grow worried about a rise in Covid-19 rates as they says rates of the flu - which is also highly communicable - begin to rise. News on Nov. 24 of the new omicron variant in South Africa further concerned them, especially with the impending holidays.

She wrote that what has happened since has only validated these concerns: Testing positivity rates in Boston rose from 0.4% in June to 6.7% on Dec. 17 - and to 31.9% on Jan. 4, she wrote. Occupancy in Boston hospitals' ICUs is now nearly 95%. Vaccination in a city where only 68.4% of the total population was fully vaccinated as of Dec. 17 makes efforts to get more people vaccinated all the more important, she wrote.

On Dec. 17, City Hall began notifying the 20 unions that represent city worker that it would require proof of vaccination. On Dec. 20, Mayor Wu announced the new policy along with a requirement to show proof of vaccination to enter most public indoor spaces in the city.

City's legal arguments against an injunction (3.5M PDF).
Ojikutu's complete affidavit (3.5M PDF).
Affidavit by city's director of labor relations (220k PDF).

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Comments

Given the excellent points made by Dr. Ojikutu in her affidavit, I'd hope that police and fire employees are getting tested several times a week as well.

Vaccines to reduce the chance of infection, testing to catch it if it happens. (And, of course, masking to reduce the chance of transmission in between.)

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While testing can help detect infection, it cannot prevent infection.

Except the same is true of vaccination...as we have ample evidence of now.

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<100% efficacy against infection =/= 0% efficacy

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so I guess why bother?

Hell, why do I even have this fire extinguisher? Better throw that out too.

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Why do cops even need tactical vests if they can still get shot and die?

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Well, at least someone was worried and concerned before this wave hit.

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If "requiring employees to get vaccinated" is your threshold, than the Biden administration deserves the same praise.

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Yes, it does.

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The law is extremely clear on this and has been for a long, long time. The City will prevail and the officers and firefighters who still refuse should be dismissed.

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This pandemic really taught me that a lot of folks in public service don't see themselves there for much more than a paycheck and a pension, particularly fields that are supposed to protect the public (police, fire, etc.). I say this as someone who recently left military service.

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You get the impression that the military is miles ahead of public safety orgs on discipline, judgement, gun safety and more.

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Not an anti-vaxxer, have had all 3 shots. What exactly is the purpose of the vaccine mandate? It’s pretty clear that the vaccine doesn’t stop the spread. I guess aside from protecting yourself you’re also not clogging up the HC system, but still seems like it should be a personal choice.

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There are so many unvaccinated people ambling around out there.

But in any case, it does help reduce the spread (the fully vaccinated are infectious for shorter periods of time and "shed" fewer viruses) and reduces the odds of somebody dying or needing intensive care. Those are good things, especially when it means fewer people requiring large amounts of hospital care and being able to get back to work sooner.

For funsies, you might want to Google "polio" and "breakthrough." The polio vaccine wasn't 100% effective, either (no vaccine is) and yet it worked, in part because of such widespread adoption, in an era when both parties acknowledged that, hey, science is not political.

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science is not political.

Science is not political, but policy is totally political. "Science" and "policy" are not the same thing at all, the same way that science and engineering are not the same thing.

Comparison to polio doesn't hold up either. Polio (and diseases like measles, smallpox, plague, ebola, mumps, cholera, rabies, tetanus which people vaccinate against) has a very high mortality rate compared to COVID. That makes COVID vaccine policy a matter of balancing your appetite for risk against your tolerance for intruding on individual liberty. Reasonable people disagree about where that balance lies.

One of the most nutso things going on is that this Omicron variant is so different from COVID-19 that it should probably be called COVID-21, according to science. But from a policy point of view, that's not going to happen because then it becomes a hard sell to tell people to get vaccinated for COVID-19 when the bug going around isn't COVID-19 anymore.

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One of the most nutso things going on is that this Omicron variant is so different from COVID-19 that it should probably be called COVID-21, according to science

Citations needed.

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But all the other people who profess to love personal liberty seem to profess that love to justify their recklessness, stupidity and endangerment of others. See for example guns and covid vaccines.

(Not unlike all those people who profess to love Jesus Christ but violate all his teachings.)

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If you just do a quick search, you will see fatality rates for polio quoted in the single and double digit percentage range. But if you look closer, you'll find that only about 0.5% of cases have paralytic symptoms, and those numbers are percentage of THOSE cases. About 70% of people with polio have no symptoms at all. Covid is more deadly.

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Science is not political, but policy is totally political.

Policy based on science is not political. Opposition to science-based policy is political, unless said opposition is based on religion.

science and engineering are not the same thing.

No kidding, but any engineering that denies science is shit engineering, and any policy that denies science is shit policy

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But let me regurgitate anti-vaxxer rhetoric.

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and it's OK to engage with them on that basis.

This is a teachable moment.

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The vaccine doesn't completely, 100%, stop the spread. It does reduce the spread, by a lot. A vaccinated person who gets sick despite the vaccine won't spread the virus to as many people as an unvaccinated one.

This is all multiplicative: if you gave the virus to half as many people as your unvaccinated neighbor would have, and each of the people who caught it from you gave it to half to half as many, who also gave to half as many....in a few weeks there would be only one percent as many cases as if nobody was vaccinated.

That healthcare system is full of very tired people: "not clogging it up" makes a big difference.

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doesn't mean infectious. It means harmful. Omicron appears to be less virulent than other strains (but more infectious). I had made the same mistake so I thought I'd pass on my new understanding.

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