Hundreds of city employees have responded to Mayor Michael Hancock’s vaccine mandate by filing for exemptions, usually on religious or medical grounds.
City employees — including library workers, elected officials, police officers, firefighters and court employees like judges — filed 799 exemptions citywide by the deadline at the end of August.
According to Denver’s Office of Human Resources, the city has over 11,000 employees. That means, at the most, only slightly over 7 percent of all employees have filed for exemptions. The latest city data indicates that 70 percent of employees are already vaccinated.
Exemption numbers are higher for certain agencies. For example, nearly 11 percent of Denver’s police have applied for vaccine exemptions, along with over 10 percent of Denver’s firefighters. Sheriff Department numbers, meanwhile, stand at a little less than 8 percent.
According to Denver paramedic Peter DellaVecchia, the mandate has not been a major concern for many of his coworkers. Although paramedics are not city employees, DellaVecchia works closely with police officers and firefighters, two of the groups with the highest rate of vaccine exemptions in the city.
Despite this, DellaVecchia says that for the majority police and firefighters he works with, the mandate has not been a major tipping point.
“They’re not gonna leave their job because of the mandate,” he said. “Eventually, if they aren’t granted some sort of exemption, they will do what they got to do to keep the food on the table. So people aren’t particularly angry or militant about it.”
The Denver Police Protective Association, a union representing most of the city’s police officers, had previously pushed back at the mandate, releasing a statement saying the group “respects and trusts our members with their own choices on how to maintain their health.” The city responded by saying it would hold employees accountable.
Of the citywide exemptions submitted, around half have been approved while less than 7 percent have been denied. The rest remain under review. Within the department of safety, which includes the police and fire departments, numbers are slightly different. Nearly 60 percent have been approved and only 2 percent have been denied.
City employees still have until Sept. 30 to provide their vaccination records in compliance with the public health order.
Mayor Michael Hancock recently added another layer of incentives through a bill offering a $400-dollar bonus to eligible employees that get their shot. The bill is currently working its way to the City Council for approval.
Vaccine mandates are coming down from the federal level as well. President Biden announced a federal rule Thursday that all businesses with 100 or more employees must ensure that every worker is either vaccinated for COVID-19 or submit to weekly testing.