Is the vaccine mandated for your fire or police department? It depends

Coronavirus

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (WNCN) — Health care systems, businesses, and some universities in central North Carolina are all mandating the COVID-19 vaccine. But when it comes to our first responders, the approach varies by municipality.

Fire departments and police departments find themselves in a tough spot. They want their employees to get their shot, but they also can’t afford to lose people.

Whether it’s responding to a fire or medical emergency, first responders in Chapel Hill interact closely with the public. That would seem to make it that much more important they get a COVID-19 vaccine.

“The town of Chapel Hill implemented a vaccine incentive and then a vaccinate or test policy,” said Ran Northam, the Town’s communications manager.

Its employees, including firefighters and police officers, who received a shot by Sept. 10 received a $400 bonus. Those who are not vaccinated now have to undergo weekly testing.

“At first there were a lot of questions. ‘What is the town going to do with my information? Is my data going to be safe?'” Northam said.

Northam said their vaccination rate had been about 50 percent. He credits the incentive with helping them get to 87 percent. He couldn’t say what the rate is among first responders specifically.

“With enough lead time and with the options on the table, hopefully, that does give employees the feeling they don’t need to look for employment elsewhere,” he explained.

So, how do other municipalities compare?

In Cary, the police and fire departments have until Oct. 8 to get a shot, or they’ll have to undergo regular testing. In Garner and Wake Forest, there are no requirements in place. In Carrboro, police officers and firefighters had until Sept. 1 to get vaccinated or have an approved exemption.

“We like to encourage our personnel, especially since we are front line with the community,” Chief Ron Early with the Wake Forst Fire Department said.

He said 67 percent of his full-time employees have received a shot.

“When I talk to the members who’ve not had a vaccination, they obviously will take it if they’re required. They’d just like to do it on their own terms,” Early explained.

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