How many of the City of Boston’s 18,000 workers are vaccinated against COVID-19? Authorities said Monday that they do not know.
Citing a recent uptick in cases and hospitalizations, Acting Mayor Kim Janey last week said the city is “leaning toward” a vaccine and testing mandate for city workers. Her office has acknowledged that such a move would need to be collectively bargained with the city’s various municipal unions. But questions remain, including how many would need to take tests regularly to prove they were COVID-19 free.
“The City of Boston does not currently track vaccination rates among all employees,” said Caitlin McLaughlin, a spokeswoman for the Boston Public Health Commission, in a Monday statement. “We are exploring the public health, legal, and labor considerations for a vaccine or testing requirement for the City’s workforce with urgency.”
There is vaccination data available for certain city departments, but not the city workforce as a whole. About 80 percent of Boston EMS’s 400 members, for instance, have reported being vaccinated, said McLaughlin. By contrast, Boston police do have some numbers for officers who got the shot at first responder vaccination clinics, but those statistics exclude officers who were vaccinated on their own and would not paint an accurate picture of how many total officers are vaccinated, a department spokesman said on Monday.
Last week, with the virus once again surging because of the delta variant, President Biden announced sweeping new pandemic requirements aimed at boosting vaccination rates for millions of federal workers and contractors as he lamented the “American tragedy” of rising-yet-preventable deaths among the unvaccinated.
Federal workers will be required to sign forms attesting they’ve been vaccinated against the coronavirus or else comply with new rules on mandatory masking, weekly testing, distancing, and more.
Officials in New York City and California have also recently mandated vaccines for their government workforces.
And even in City Hall there has been fresh vaccine and testing requirements, with City Council President Pro Tempore Matt O’Malley requiring all in-person council staff to show proof of vaccination or a weekly COVID-19 test starting Aug. 30. Additionally, hospitals, some nursing homes, and many private colleges and universities in Massachusetts are requiring vaccines for employees.
A vaccine mandate for municipal employees could present legal complications, according to experts, who have noted there would probably need to be exemptions for people whose religious beliefs are at odds with them becoming vaccinated, people who are immunocompromised, and those who are pregnant. If those carve-outs don’t exist, there would be the potential for litigation.
Last month, officials in Cambridge, Provincetown, and Nantucket urged residents and visitors to wear masks in indoor public spaces as new outbreaks have been reported.
As she ponders a vaccine and testing mandate, Janey has already made a significant decision on masking, saying earlier this month that Boston Public Schools 50,000 students will be required to wear masks when they return to classrooms in the fall.
About 60 percent of Boston’s population has been fully vaccinated, according to city data. One zip code in Allston-Brighton has the lowest full vaccination rate in the city, at 31 percent, according to city data, followed by Mattapan at 40 percent.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.