Hundreds of people, including some Los Angeles municipal employees, protested against COVID-19 vaccination mandates outside City Hall Monday in a demonstration organized by Firefighters4Freedom.
Dozens of people among the crowd were wearing clothes designating their employment with the Los Angeles city and county fire departments, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and other government agencies.
Many people who appeared to be government employees declined to be interviewed, but a few employees said they were prepared to lose their job over the city's vaccination mandate, which gives them until Dec. 18 to comply.
Los Angeles firefighter Scott Tomlin said he is prepared to lose his job "because I'm not prepared to lose my life over it."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says reports of death following a COVID-19 vaccine are extremely rare, and there is not an established causal link between the vast majority of those deaths and COVID-19 vaccines.
The CDC does warn of a "plausible causal relationship" between the Johnson & Johnson's Janssen COVID-19 vaccine and a rare blood clot event known as TTS, which occurred at a rate of seven per 1 million vaccinated women between 18 and 49 years old. The CDC was looking into five reported deaths related to complications from TTS following the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine. As of mid-October, more than 15 million people in the U.S. had received that vaccine.
Several people at the rally noted that Mayor Eric Garcetti recently tested positive for COVID-19, indicating to them that the vaccines do not even provide protection against the virus. However, the CDC reports that unvaccinated people are at 6.1 times greater risk of testing positive for COVID-19 than fully vaccinated people and 11.3 times more likely to die from the virus than people who have been vaccinated.
As of Sunday, 754,051 people in the United States have died of COVID-19, 72,698 of them in California.
Under Los Angeles' employee vaccination mandate, employees have until Dec. 18 to get vaccinated or apply for a religious or medical exemption. Garcetti said on Oct. 20 that any city employee who refused to get vaccinated against COVID-19 by Dec. 18 should be prepared to lose their job.
"The city's employee vaccine mandate is critical to protecting the health and safety of our workforce and the Angelenos we serve," he said.
"Employees must be vaccinated by December 18, and we are putting a rigorous testing program into place in the meantime. Let me be clear: Any employee who refuses to be vaccinated by this date should be prepared to lose their job."
Through Dec. 18, unvaccinated employees have to submit to two COVID-19 tests per week, and $65 per test will be deducted from their paychecks. Employees have to get tested during their free time, and testing has to be conducted by the city or a vendor of the city's choosing. Third party tests will not be allowed.
The union representing Los Angeles police officers filed a lawsuit against the city for requiring employees to pay out of pocket for their tests.
Those seeking religious or medical exemptions will also be required to take two tests per week at the employee's own expense while the city processes the exemption request. If an exemption is approved, the employee will be reimbursed for testing costs and going forward will be required to test for COVID-19 once per week, but the city will pay for it.
If an exemption request is denied, the employee will have five business days to file an appeal. If they do not appeal the decision, they will be issued a notice that they must submit proof of vaccination. Failure to do so would result in "corrective action."
The employee will be able to either resign or retire "all in good standing in lieu of discipline" if they do not comply with the mandate. Those employees will also be eligible for rehire if they get vaccinated or if the vaccination order is lifted.
Exemption requests are being evaluated on a case-by-case basis. People can qualify for an exemption if they have a medical condition or sincerely held religious beliefs, practices or observances that prevent them from receiving the vaccine.
"How can we ask Angelenos to be vaccinated if we are not doing it ourselves? We need to set the strong example for our communities. The vaccines are available, they're effective, and they're keeping people out of the hospital and off ventilators," Council President Nury Martinez said when the ordinance was approved in August.
Many workers who don't want the vaccines say it's an issue of personal freedom, with some expressing doubts about the vaccines' safety or efficacy. Mandate proponents say unvaccinated people can put others -- including those who aren't eligible for the vaccines -- in danger.