SEATTLE (NewsNation Now) — Monday was the official vaccine mandate deadline in Washington for Seattle police, first responders and health care workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or lose their jobs.
That same day, the Seattle Fire Department reported that 93% of its personnel have been vaccinated while 6% have been given exemptions. Seattle’s Police Department reported that 91% percent had been vaccinated and 7% are exempted.
Jeremie Neighbors, a Seattle firefighter and EMT, is not vaccinated but still has a job with the fire department.
“I am being told that I have a couple of weeks to decide to get the shot or not or face being separated,” Neighbors said Tuesday on NewsNation’s “On Balance.”
He said the vaccination issue is a personal decision for him and his family.
“For myself and my four kids and one on the way, we are trying to stand up and do what’s right in an amazingly confusing time.”
This mandate comes at a time when the Seattle fire and police departments are both dealing with a massive shortage of officers. Seattle’s police department is sending detectives and non-patrol staff to respond to emergency calls because of their shortage.
Neighbors said more than 100 firefighters are on leave from the department due to the mandate. He said with that many officers out, he’s worried that many calls for help won’t get answered.
“If you take us off the streets, right now there is going to be, starting today, 175 firefighters on leave, whether that has to do with the vaccination or other medical leaves,” Neighbors said. “That’s 175 of us not able to respond to calls, and even fewer police not able to respond. So as response times go up, things change drastically. I don’t know the statistics for the police. I know they are stretched to the max.”
The staffing shortage comes as the Seattle area, like other U.S. metropolitan regions, is experiencing a gun violence surge. Fatal shootings over the first nine months of 2021 in King County, which includes Seattle, already exceed last year’s total.
As of the end of last month, 73 people had been killed and 283 injured in shootings in King County, according to data from the King County Prosecutor’s Shots Fired Project.
For all of 2020, there were 69 firearm-related homicides and 268 nonfatal shootings in King County.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.