PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald says all county employees under the executive branch will be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by the beginning of December.
Employees will have until Dec. 1 to provide proof of vaccination to department management, Allegheny County officials say. If employees are not vaccinated, they face termination.
In a statement, Fitzgerald said, "As we continue to see cases of COVID in our county, and different populations being affected than were previously, it is even more important that our workforce be protected so that the public that we serve is protected as well. The CDC, the FDA, the PA Department of Health, the county Health Department and even the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are in agreement that vaccines are highly effective at protecting most fully vaccinated people against symptoms and severe disease from COVID. This is the right thing for our county and our workforce."
According to the county, about 5,000 workers fall under this mandate. The majority, about 75 percent of them, have their vaccines. For the unvaccinated, some are not too happy about this.
"It's insulting to know that I came here and help run this county for the last year and a half, and now you're going to fire me for it," employee Jackie Borkowski said.
She got the email this morning and feels this is a political move by county leaders. She said they have never mandated any shots in the past.
"I'm not trying to deny that this is contagious and it's a bad virus, but if you're not going to take precautions for us in the heat of the cases, then why now?" Borkowski said.
The only exceptions are those required by law - like a religious or medical reason.
According to the county, employees do not have to be considered fully vaccinated, which is "defined by the CDC as two weeks following the first dose of Janssen or second dose of Pfizer or Moderna," by Dec. 1. But they will have to have received the one-shot J&J vaccine or received the second dose of the two-shot Pfizer or Moderna vaccine on or before the first of December.
Fitzgerald said the move is to keep everyone safe. About 700 employees have gotten the vaccine since the August announcement that new hires need to be vaccinated. His office is working to get the last 25 percent to roll up their sleeves and get the shot.
They are reminding people that top medical experts say this is the best way to stay protected.
"Week after week we see how safe they are, how effective they are and how dangerous it is not to be vaccinated," Fitzgerald said.
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Fitzgerald said this move was discussed with the county's legal team to make sure it can be enforced. Other offices such as the Allegheny County courts, Allegheny County council and elected officers do not fall under this mandate.
KDKA's Chris Hoffman reached out to some of these entities. The district attorney's office has not made a decision on implementing an order like this, while the controller's office will have the same mandate.
"I really applaud County Executive Rich Fitzgerald because I think this is leadership," Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner told KDKA's Royce Jones.
Following the blueprint set by Fitzgerald, Wager said her mandate will impact nearly 100 employees, 10 percent of which are not vaccinated.
She has already spoken with her office solicitor.
"His position has been, yes, this is certainly legal, we're able to do it within that framework. What will be seen is when grievances are filed, if grievances are filed," Wagner said.
Council member Bethany Hallam said council has not shared any official discussions on a vaccine mandate for their 15 members, four staffers and one intern, but said, "I would think by this point in time everyone within the Council office is responsible enough to be vaccinated."
The county also says vaccinated employees who get COVID-19 will have an additional benefit of being provided 10 days of paid leave.
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