Handful of unvaxxed Philly police officers without exemption to be placed on leave, possibly fired

An arbitration panel in February decided that officers had to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or get a religious or medical exemption.

The back of a Philadelphia police van is seen on a street

Shown is a police vehicle in in Philadelphia, Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

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The long dispute between the city of Philadelphia and police officers who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 is over.

An arbitration panel determined the handful of active-duty police officers who have not been vaccinated and do not have an exemption from the city’s requirement will go on unvaccinated leave for up to a month, and could lose their jobs.

Late last year, Philadelphia at first declined to impose a strict vaccination mandate on city workers, but later changed its mind to require that city workers be vaccinated against COVID-19, or get a medical or religious exemption.

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But when it came to police officers, the local union, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5, immediately got the mandate suspended and took it to an arbitration panel. In 2021, COVID-19 was by far the leading cause of death among active-duty law enforcement.

This February, the arbitration panel decided that officers had to get vaccinated or get an exemption.

Now, around 97% of the officers have either gotten a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine or gotten an exemption. The panel also commended the police union and police department for educating and communicating with officers to reach this point. In a news release, Mayor Jim Kenney thanked both police officers and the panel.

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“As I have said before, as public servants, we bear a responsibility to mitigate the harm that would result from inadvertent transmission of COVID-19 to our colleagues and the public and to set an example for other organizations and companies,” Kenney said in a statement. “The safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines remain the best way to protect Philadelphians and save lives in the ongoing struggle to fight this pandemic.”

Any officers who have not gotten a vaccine by May, even if they have an exemption, will need to wear two masks, or an N95 mask, and get tested for COVID-19 regularly.

Any officers who don’t follow the requirements will go on unvaccinated leave for up to a month. After that, they could lose their jobs, but could be reinstated in a year if they meet the requirements again.

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