Tampa becomes first Bay Area city to mandate COVID-19 vaccine for employees

COVID-19 vaccines will be required for all city employees in Tampa, making the city the first in the Bay Area to implement such a mandate.

Wednesday morning, Mayor Jane Castor said the goal is for all 4,700 city employees to be fully vaccinated by September 30. Those who have exemptions from the vaccine will be required to wear N95 masks to work and get tested for COVID-19 once a week.

"I clearly understand individuals' level of personal freedom," offered Castor, the former police chief. "I spent over three decades upholding our Constitution…ensuring those individuals have those rights, but if we did not mandate vaccines, we would still have polio and smallpox. This particular vaccine has proven to be safe."

She said the positivity rate in Tampa stands at 21% based on tests at city sites.

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A positive antibody test is an acceptable substitute for the vaccine, Castor added, insisting that her goal was to work with all employees who have concerns.

"I’m not naïve enough to think that there aren’t going to be people who are adamantly against this. And we will deal with those people," the mayor said. "We’re not going to talk about termination. Our city of Tampa team is a great team and we are going to work with individuals who feel that vaccines are not necessary."

It's unclear how many city employees are fully vaccinated, Castor said, because the state halted daily COVID-19 updates. She said it's estimated that about 40% of employees are fully vaccinated.

In addition, Castor said the city is working on daycare options for city employees with quarantined children. 

Dr. Jason Wilson of Tampa General Hospital said the hospital has yet to admit a patient that had a negative reaction to the vaccine. He said TGH is experiencing a high volume of patients with COVID-19, and those numbers are double what they saw during the last peak.

Among those patients, 85% to 90% are unvaccinated. Those who are vaccinated are either immunocompromised or had a transplant.

"I'm admitting patients to the hospital every day who have not been vaccinated for COVID. I have yet to admit, intubate or take care of a critically ill patient who is that way because of a vaccine side effect," Dr. Wilson said during the press conference. "Risk-benefit ratio here, right?"

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Following the FDA's full approval of the Pfizer vaccine, major companies, school districts and other entities have announced requirements for employees to get their shots in order to return to work. 

On Tuesday, an email went out to all city employees yesterday informing them that vaccines would be required moving forward. A copy of the email was provided to FOX 13 News and the city confirmed its contents Tuesday night.

In the email, Mayor Castor said in part, "Over the course of the last 18 months we have all done so much to combat this pandemic and keep our city up and running, but the unprecedented spread of this virus demands that we do more to protect ourselves, each other, and the community." 

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But she said in her email to Tampa city workers that there’ll be "reasonable options and time frames for the implementation of this directive."

There are two notable exceptions in Florida: a medical issue, which would require a doctor’s note explaining why an employee is unable to get the vaccine, or a legitimate religious objection 

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But, attorneys explain, Florida employers are well within their right to require the vaccine as a condition of employment in order to cut down on the spread of the virus inside the workplace and to safeguard employees 

"So for an employer-employee relationship in Florida, an employer absolutely can say to the employee, ‘We want you to be vaccinated to work here with those two exceptions in mind.’ And that's that's a perfectly valid in the state of Florida," explained Robert Shimberg, an attorney.

At least three other local governments in Florida have already passed the same requirement for their employees including Leon, Orange and Delray Beach.

Lawyers with the Justice Department determined that federal law does not prohibit public agencies and private businesses from mandating COVID-19 vaccines under emergency use authorization according to an opinion posted by the DOJ on Monday, FOX News reported.