NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - North Charleston has become one of the first cities in South Carolina to require its employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Mayor Keith Summey signed an executive order on Wednesday laying the groundwork for the vaccination policy that has become something of a political football.
“This is not a decision I make lightly,” Summey said. “I’m not a person who likes to restrict what people can or cannot do, but the issue becomes one of public safety and us being able to serve the public.”
In recent weeks, the city has had dozens of employees call out because of COVID-19 according to Summey. He says some days there are 20 to 25 firefighters out because of the disease.
“The City of North Charleston is not like the school district. We cannot operate from home. We have to provide services to the people in the streets,” Summey said. “The largest number of employees that we have come from police, fire and public works.”
According to the executive order, employees will need to have their first shot by Sept. 20 and be fully vaccinated by Nov. 5. To help speed vaccination, the city will host a vaccination clinic next Thursday, Sept. 9.
Summey says they waited this long to implement the mandate until at least of the vaccines was fully approved. The FDA approved the Pfizer vaccine on Aug. 23. The company is now officially calling the vaccine Comirnaty.
“The only feedback I have gotten from [city] council is positive,” Summey said. “There are some employees who are upset, and we knew there would be. They will just have to make the choice on what they want to do. I do not think we will be the only municipality to require vaccinations.”
The options are limited for employees who oppose the shot. They can apply for a medical or religious exemption and hope it is approved or they can quit. Exemptions must be requested by Sept. 20.
“If there is not a medical reason or any other reason that they can’t get vaccinated then they will not be allowed to work,” Summey said. “I know that could put us at a shortfall. . . but at the end of the day I have to do those things that I think are important for the quality of life of the people who live and work here.”
The city does not keep a record of how many of its employees are already vaccinated.
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