Some front-line workers in Denver say they disagree with vaccine mandate, will risk being fired

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DENVER (KDVR) – Some Denver front-line workers and first responders insist they will not get vaccinated even if it means losing their jobs.

KDVR spoke to Denver police officers, firefighters and local nurses who are standing together, stressing that none of them are anti-vaccine. They say they just want to be able to make their own choices. They did not want to be identified out of fear of retribution.

Earlier this month, the city of Denver announced that it will require all city employees and contract workers to be fully vaccinated by Sept. 30 as a condition of employment.

Denver police officer files for religious exemption

“I’ve spoken personally with about a dozen officers that are ready to leave. The last 18 months have not been easy because of anti-police sentiment, the rising crime and lack of staffing and COVID restrictions,” said one veteran Denver officer.

“They’ve been through a lot in the last 18 months, they’ve endured a lot,” the officer said. “Now, they are being told they need to do something against their wishes to maintain their employment. It is the last straw for them. They are applying elsewhere or retiring early.”

“I’m neither for or against it. I respect the opinion of fellow officers who don’t want to get it. And I appreciate the nurses and firefighters who stand with us because they are competent professionals — they know how to take care of themselves and stay healthy and I respect their opinion,” he continued. “If they don’t want to get vaccinated, they are kind of experts in dealing with infectious communities on a day-to-day basis. I respect that right. It shows other city workers are in the same boat. In all my years working as a police officer, I’ve seen how my coworkers are. They are very careful with their personal health and are competent in self-care, and I think that needs to be respected.”

The officer has had the virus and said he feels he’s adequately protected.

“It may work, it may not work, but at this time, having had COVID and natural immunities, I feel my body is protected and I feel like that is my shield at this time, my faith and natural antibodies,” the officer said.

He said he was being forced to give up a career of more than 20 years based on something he doesn’t believe in.

“We choose to come to work, we choose to go into those burning buildings, we choose to help the citizens of Denver. Not once did we mandate they not be who they are or the problems they face. We are there to help them in all walks of life,” he said. “At the end of the day, we are all human. To me, that’s what community and society is for, to watch out for each other, and I feel like I am taking off watch because I don’t believe in something, whether somebody else does or not, we all have those choices to make. And that’s just it. Choice.”

He filed for a religious exemption and is waiting to find out if it will be granted.

“I think it’s just a choice I’m not willing to falter on based on my faith and what we’ve discussed as a family. It was my time to take a stand and stand for those I work with. I believe it is everybody’s choice to do their own research. Whatever your belief system is, you have to follow what guides you. Your intuition, your lord. Ask a question. We’ve always been brought up to ask questions and think on your own. For me, it’s personal,” he said. “Everybody has a choice. We all choose what we put in our bodies. Some more than others. I don’t question the individual I run on who chose to put something else in their body. I don’t stop providing service to them because they made, in my opinion, a bad choice. For me, I chose not to put this in my body. All I ask is the respect of choice,” he said.

Denver firefighter wants the choice

A Denver firefighter expressed concerns because there are many unknowns about the vaccine.

“I’m really frustrated with the city and county of Denver. I’ve given many years of my life to be a firefighter. I risked my life, my well-being. I have a family that wants me to come home, to serve the citizens. Now I’m being told I can’t make decisions for myself, that If I don’t do what they want, then I am going to lose my job. That seems a little unreasonable,” the firefighter said.

“We’re prepared to stand against this because it is wrong, absolutely wrong. I’ve traveled all over the world. I’ve been vaccinated. I am not anti-vaccine. I’m not against that. I’ve looked at all those vaccines I’ve taken and decided if they are right for me. This one, I have concerns about. We don’t know what the long-term effects are,” he said. “For me, I’ve made a lifestyle of making healthy choices. I work out, I eat healthy. I make sure I can fight a virus if it comes along. We’re allowed to make decisions for ourselves when it comes to our health. I’m not in the high-risk group. I have no comorbidities, I take no medications. There is no reason I should be forced to take a vaccine when it’s not necessary for me. I should be allowed to make that choice.”

He also said he does not believe he’s putting the public at risk.

“If the public was concerned and are in the high-risk group, they are going to get vaccinated if they’re concerned. If they are not, they are also taking that risk. That’s their own risk to determine. I am no risk to anybody else. I’ve probably had COVID, maybe twice. That’s what it’s about for me. Freedom to choose for myself — my body my choice. That’s what we are told, right?” he said. “Here I am, I want to choose this and I’m being told I’m not allowed to choose that. And it could be equal and up to fired. This is not right for any of us firefighters who have given our lives to this job to be told that we have to do something like this.”

2 local nurses don’t think there has been enough testing

Two nurses from a local facility also came forward.

“This mandate has definitely been the last straw for me,” one of them said. “I should be able to choose what I put in my body and what I don’t. I am not anti-vaccine in any way, shape or form. I just feel like I should not be mandated to take something I don’t feel comfortable with. I’ve been a nurse 29 years, so I’ve been at this a very long time. I don’t think there’s been enough testing. There are side effects, there are people who are vaccinated who are still getting COVID. I just don’t feel like this vaccine is living up to everything it said it should, and I just think there’s a lot of questions.”

“We have lots of coworkers who already had COVID. They already have the antibodies and they have more antibodies than someone with the vaccine. Why would they be mandated to take the vaccine?” she continued. “There’s just so many questions. I mean, I’ve been at this 18 months, with very little PPE, without a vaccine. And I mean so far, so good. I try to exercise, eat healthy, drink my water, do all the things just to stay healthy to begin with, which is what we should all be doing.”

She added, “There’s a very large fear of retribution if you come out against taking the vaccine. It’s sad. We are now pitting nurses against nurses because of this mandate. It’s heartbreaking.”

The other nurse said she loves taking care of her patients and is scared to lose her job.

“How can they do this? I have to have a choice. I have a healthy respect and know many people have been injured by COVID, but I do think I can look through that and see the risk that is involved with or without a vaccine. I do all the things at work they require. Wearing the masks, washing, wearing gowns and those types of things, so I’m not afraid. Each month, I go through this and don’t get COVID, I’m fine. I just don’t feel like I’m at a huge risk without the vaccine,” she said. “I haven’t exactly decided not to get the vaccine. I’m waiting, and I think I deserve that right to wait and see where the science takes us. I have some concerns about reactions some people have had to the vaccine. It might be life-changing, it might be a real modern-day miracle, but I want more time to suss that out for myself without being told to do it. I’m willing to look at their side. But I just want more time to decide that’s what I want.”

She added, “I worked really hard for all of you back in spring of 2020 and now, they potentially want to take my job because I don’t want to get a vaccine. If you’ve been vaccinated, you should be safe, correct? I take really good care of my patients, and I will continue as long as they let me.”

City leaders take on the requirement, pushback

City leaders say they want to encourage compliance.

“Our goal is not to lose employees over this. Our goal is to follow the public health order, and the executive director or public health has made it very clear to us this is the best tool we have to combat the delta variant at this point,” said Mary Dulacki, chief deputy executive director of the department of public safety.

She said information was coming very soon on the consequences of noncompliance with the vaccine mandate.

“This is a condition of employment. Our goal here is that everyone is vaccinated. These folks come into contact with people, come into people’s homes, intimate contact with the public. And it’s especially important for those individuals to be vaccinated,” Dulacki said.

“Losing seasoned veterans would be a very hard thing for us, but we don’t have a choice here. We are in the same position across the city. We’ve got this public health order, we are going to follow it,” Dulacki said.

But these employees say they won’t comply, and if forced, say they will take with them dozens of years of experience.

“You’re not talking to a group of individuals who are not willing to put their lives on the line for individuals or to protect this city at all cost. We’ve done it for the last two years, we’ve done it without question. To me, those are the people you want working for you,” one firefighter said.

Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen said the front-liner workers have two choices.

“We said 17, 18 months ago when this pandemic started we didn’t want to lose a single officer to the disease, nor do I want to lose a single officer to the mandate,” Pazen said. “You can get the vaccine, which is what we encourage people to do. Or there are exemptions, religious or medical. I would encourage our folks to choose one of those two paths. We need every officer to choose A or B, then to stay helping us address these very significant issues that we’re dealing with. Certainly should be able to maintain our staff, get vaccinated or get your exemption.”

Nick Rogers, president of Denver Police Protective Association, said: “We are not opposed to the vaccine. We are opposed to being forced to take it. Whatever happened to my body, my choice?”

The deadline to apply for an exemption is Aug. 30. The deadline to be fully vaccinated is Sept. 30. The city will hold a town hall meeting for employees on Wednesday to answer questions.

Vaccines have been tested for safety, effectiveness

COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. were initially rolled out under the Food and Drug Administration’s emergency use authorization, which allows the agency to speed the availability of medical products during public health emergencies.

Under the process, the FDA waived some of its normal data requirements and procedures to make the COVID-19 vaccines available months earlier than would have been possible under normal circumstances.

The Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines still underwent testing in tens of thousands of people to establish safety and effectiveness against COVID-19. But the FDA initially required the companies to submit about only two months of safety monitoring data on study participants, the period when side effects are most likely to occur.

This week, the FDA granted full approval to Pfizer’s vaccine, meaning it now carries its strongest endorsement of safety and effectiveness. Moderna has also applied for full approval, and Johnson & Johnson has said it hopes to apply later in the year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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