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Infectious disease specialist: 'It's crucial first responders get vaccinated'

Unvaccinated San Diego city employees are running out of time to comply with the COVID vaccine mandate. They have until Wednesday to be fully vaccinated or apply for an exemption.

While many are on their third, or booster, shot, 23% of city employees have failed to get even one dose.

At more than 35%, the San Diego Police Department has the highest number of unvaccinated employees, followed by maintenance / skilled labor workers at more than 26% and the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department at more than 15%.

A man receives a COVID-19 vaccine at the vaccination super station at Grossmont Center in La Mesa, Calif. Feb. 2, 2021.
Roland Lizarondo
A man receives a COVID-19 vaccine at the vaccination super station at Grossmont Center in La Mesa, Calif. Feb. 2, 2021.

"I just have trouble understanding it. The science seems really clear," said Eric Hansen, a teacher at San Diego Unified who was getting his booster shot Tuesday at Lincoln High School. He said he doesn’t understand why first responders, especially police officers have such high numbers of unvaccinated employees.

"I think they need to get vaccinated. I mean, this is my third shot so and I’m as much as a public servant as they are, and I deal with the public as much as they do, classrooms full of kids," he said. "And so if I have to do it and I’m doing it I don’t see why they shouldn’t do it too."

Lindsay Gabriel, who was also getting a booster at Lincoln High, said she is for people having the right to choose, even though her husband had to be hospitalized with the virus.

"I want to be part of getting us back to normal, but I also understand that there’s going to be people that aren’t comfortable with doing that," she said.

Gabriel said first responders have earned the right to have the option.

"The first responders, they’re there for us I feel like they should be able to make their own choice," she said.

Mayor Todd Gloria tweeted the vaccine is an important and necessary step to provide essential services and keep both the community and employees safe.

Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, a professor of medicine and infectious disease specialist at UC San Francisco, agreed with the mayor.

"We need the workforce intact. We need the workforce healthy," he said. "We need these first responders fit and able to live long and healthy lives to take care of us and I think this is really an essential piece of that."

He said the science is clear: People who are vaccinated are less likely to get COVID-19, get hospitalized and die from the virus than those who are unvaccinated. He also said unvaccinated people also have a higher viral load for a longer period of time and infect more people creating more strains that pose a risk to everyone.

"We know that unvaccinated people tend to hold on to virus for much longer time. And because of that, every time the virus makes a copy of itself, it’s making errors," Chin-Hong said. "Most of the variants, if not all of them, pretty much arise in unvaccinated individuals. We need to break the chain of transmission if we’re going to stop the deltas, the alphas, the gammas, the omicrons of the future."

The city of San Diego said employees who do not meet the Dec. 1 deadline for a vaccine or an exemption will get a letter stating they are in danger of losing their jobs and have 30 days to comply. If they fail to do so, the city will begin the termination process.