Only half of Memphis city employees are vaccinated against COVID-19

Published: Sep. 21, 2021 at 5:34 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Only half of Memphis’ city employees are vaccinated against COVID-19.

The new data comes from a Memphis City Council committee meeting Tuesday.

Mandating COVID-19 shots for Memphis city employees was the hot topic during the heated meeting. Council members found out only about half of the city’s 8,200 employees are vaccinated, and the vaccination rate for Memphis first responders is even lower.

Only half of Memphis city employees are vaccinated against COVID-19
Only half of Memphis city employees are vaccinated against COVID-19

City leaders are worried that instituting a vaccine mandate could backfire.

“The last thing I want to do is implement a policy that would then cause an exodus of employees. We’re already having difficulty in hiring, so we have to be sensitive to that,” said Councilman Worth Morgan.

The city’s solid waste division has numerous job openings. It also has the lowest vaccination rate at 37 percent. Only 47 percent of the Memphis Police Department is vaccinated.

The Memphis Fire Department is 48-percent vaccinated. Councilman Edmund Ford, Sr. said his funeral home is filled with people who died from COVID, sometimes entire families who fell victim to the disease. A vaccine mandate, Ford argued, is a must.

“Shut this doggone place down if they’re not going to take that vaccination or lay their a**es off,” Ford told his fellow council members, “You know, if these people don’t want to take these vaccinations, they don’t need to be here.”

Alex Smith, chief human resources officer for the City of Memphis, said they’re waiting to see how President Joe Biden’s order that companies with more than 100 employees mandate the shot will impact city government.

There is also a question about whether any city mandate would conflict with a Tennessee state law passed earlier in the year that lets workers opt out of a vaccine mandate if it violates their “conscience.”

“The final rules from OSHA have not come out,” said Smith. “So, there still needs to be a legal evaluation of what those final rules are.”

City council members are now tasked with figuring out how to fight vaccine hesitancy and convince workers to get the life-saving jab in order to save more lives.

“That’s what we’re dealing with,” said Councilman Dr. Jeff Warren. “People have bad information out there. And I think as an employer, it’s our obligation to protect our employees. And if we have to mandate it, we do. And we should educate.”

“We need to recognize this is a problem and we need to talk about it publicly, and then together as part of the conversation, come up with a solution that’s going to be adequate. Because where we are now is not adequate,” Morgan said.

Memphis city employees who do get the shot receive $250 in incentives, according to Smith. The city has spent $8.6 million so far during the pandemic to pay for COVID treatment and testing for its workers.

On-site vaccinations are being offered for the police and fire departments, and some on-site vaccination events have been arranged for solid waste employees.

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