Durham County sheriff requiring employees to get COVID-19 vaccine

Durham County News

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – Durham County Sheriff Clarence Birkhead made it clear this week: his employees must get the COVID-19 vaccine, according to a memo sent to sheriff’s office employees.

On Wednesday, CBS 17 obtained a copy of the letter. In it, Birkhead wrote, “today was the last day for DCSO employees to get the COVID vaccine without having to schedule an appointment.”

“I am disappointed with the low compliance rate of employees taking advantage of this opportunity,” Birkhead added. “I feel I must remind you this is not an option — taking the vaccine is mandatory for all DCSO employees.”

Birkhead noted that employees could be disciplined if they don’t take it.

He also drove the point home by mentioning “losing loved ones and coworkers to COVID.”

Birkhead added, “arrestees and people showing up for court who were asymptomatic” later tested positive.

“I think it makes sense for such ruling, specifically with the sheriff’s department. They are role models at the end of the day in terms of people that protect us to make the right decisions,” said Durham resident Shyam Pradheep.

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, employers can require employees to get the vaccine. There are some accommodation exceptions for religious beliefs or disabilities.

“I would be in support of everyone in the office getting the vaccine and making everyone safe at work,” said Vincent Gauthier, who is also a Durham resident.

CBS 17 reached out to Birkhead a for comment on Wednesday, but was told he was “unavailable.”

Birkhead wrote in the letter that they are meeting with employees who signed an exemption so they can accommodate.

The North Carolina Sheriff’s Association said it sent out information to sheriff’s offices statewide with information regarding mandatory vaccinations.

On Thursday, Birkhead issued the following statement to CBS 17:

“I have informed all employees representing the Sheriff’s Office to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. This includes employees working in the Durham County Detention Center. My office is working with the Durham County Department of Public Health (DCoDPH) and our medical provider to make the vaccine available to our detainees housed there as soon as possible.

“The Sheriff’s Office has been impacted by COVID, but we continue to operate in order to serve the community we are sworn to serve. The very nature of our work requires continual human contact and interaction – be it inside the Detention Facility, at the Durham County Justice Center, or when our deputies travel throughout the County responding to calls for service. Throughout the duration of the pandemic that started 325 days ago, I have received input from my command staff while consulting with medical and health professionals across our region, state and nation. As the leader of the Durham County Sheriff’s Office, I am responsible to follow the science and the resulting data.

“Since the time of the internal announcement, numbers thus far show that more than half of the agency has received the first dose and are scheduled to receive the second dose throughout the month of February. We do not have the final numbers or exact percentages right now. We are still coordinating with DCoDPH to ensure all employees be vaccinated. We want all DCSO employees to complete this process as soon as possible, but it is dependent upon the availability of the vaccine and scheduling appointments.

“There are times when tough decisions have to be made. After receiving information from a variety of sources about a challenge we have faced for almost one calendar year, this is one of those times.”

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