As many as 200 San Francisco city employees ask for COVID vaccine mandate exemption

Though the City and County of San Francisco has a vaccination mandate for employees, upwards of 200 employees are asking to be exempted from a number of anti-COVID mandates including frequent testing and mask wearing. 

The overwhelming majority of San Francisco's 35,000 employees are vaccinated, but just under 200, some with frequent direct public contact, say they want to be exempted.

For the last six weeks or so, a steady stream of near 192, identical, eight-page letters, from city/county employees has come in to San Francisco. 

With few exceptions, the policy is, once the vaccines get full federal approval, employees must comply or lose their job. But the letters list 41 pre-conditions before they will comply, asks that their "God given and Constitutionally secured rights" not be taken away as related to vaccination, testing and mask mandates. 

"Nonsense," said  Dr. John Schwartzberg, who is a UC Berkeley physician, public health lecturer, vaccine and infectious disease expert who added, "This list is just really taken out of the anti-vaxxers handbook. It's filled with nonsense. It's filled with really distorted thinking."

Of the 192 letters received so far, 105 are from fire department employees, 36 from the Public Utilities Commission, 18 from the police department, six from the sheriff's department and six from the SF Municipal Transportation Agency, and a smattering from other departments. 

Many of these employees are often in direct contact with the people they serve. "The public should be assured that the people who are there to help them are not also going to hurt them," said Dr. Schwartzberg.

The City's authority to fire the unvaccinated derives from a 1905 U.S. Supreme Court case, which remains law to this day as well as various federal laws and state public health laws. 

If they lose their current jobs, getting another could be an issue. 

"I imagine if my name were on something like that, it would be hard for me to be hired by any reputable medical facility or university," said Schwartzberg

In a statement, the City wrote. "There are both local and state health orders in place and the City will comply with them. Employees are able to claim a medical or religious exemption where appropriate."