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LATEST UPDATES: Tracking COVID-19 | Vaccines | Racial Justice

Some Fire Department Staffers Decline COVID-19 Vaccine, Even Amid Outbreak

San Diego Fire-Rescue Department fire trucks are shown, Oct. 6, 2017.

Credit: KPBS News

Above: San Diego Fire-Rescue Department fire trucks are shown, Oct. 6, 2017.

Nearly 20% of San Diego Fire-Rescue Department employees have so far declined to take the COVID-19 vaccine, even as outbreaks deplete the number of employees able to work in critical roles.

As of Sunday, 14 employees were in isolation because of an outbreak at a dispatch center, which Fire Chief Colin Stowell said is just as concerning as previous outbreaks at fire stations.

Listen to this story by Andrew Bowen.

"We're very limited on our number of dispatchers, and for us to be able to still respond to all our 911 calls, it's essential that our dispatch center stays healthy and able to process those calls," Stowell said.

Curious how the vaccine rollout is going in San Diego County? KPBS is tracking the progress.

While the majority of Fire-Rescue Department personnel have been vaccinated, at least 191 people — or 17% of all employees — have opted out. That puts San Diego ahead of Los Angeles, where fire department officials have resorted to raffling off prizes for employees who agree to get their shots.

Stowell said department leaders are actively promoting the vaccines' safety and effectiveness to employees. Stowell himself is due to receive his second dose of the vaccine on Thursday.

"We need our folks healthy so that they can still staff fire stations every day and respond to the calls for the public in need," Stowell said. "It's in our best interest to make sure that we can do whatever we can to keep them healthy."

RELATED: California Sees Hopeful Signs As Counties Fight For Vaccines

As trained EMTs, both firefighters and lifeguards are currently eligible to get vaccinated. Sixty-one San Diego firefighters have so far been trained to administer the vaccine, Stowell said, and they have been doing so for other firefighters in San Diego and neighboring cities. Some have also been working alongside UCSD Health personnel at the vaccination "superstation" outside Petco Park.

Police officers are among those next in line, alongside teachers, food and agriculture workers and people over 65. San Diego Police Department spokesman Shawn Takeuchi said as of now there is no word on when the vaccine will be available to sworn officers.

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Photo of Andrew Bowen

Andrew Bowen
Metro Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover local government — a broad beat that includes housing, homelessness and infrastructure. I'm especially interested in the intersections of land use, transportation and climate change.

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