Hundreds of city employees have asked for medical or religious exemptions to San Francisco’s vaccine mandate. None have been granted, The Examiner has learned.
That includes 228 religious exemption requests filed by police department employees, 214 of which have been denied while 15 are still under review as of Oct. 6.
Most city employees are fully vaccinated already. And as the Nov. 1 deadline for all San Francisco city workers to get vaccinated gets closer, more and more holdouts are getting their COVID-19 shot.
But a small number of workers are still waiting to hear back on medical or religious exemption requests — a process that’s been confusing and cumbersome to many of those who are seeking it.
City officials on Monday confirmed with The Examiner that no exemptions have been approved yet among employees at San Francisco Police Department, Fire Department, Public Health, the Municipal Transportation Agency and the Mayor’s Office.
It could not be confirmed in time for publication if any exemptions have been approved for city employees working at San Francisco International Airport or Public Utilities Commission.
As of Oct. 5, there were 138 people who applied for a religious exemption from SFDPH, 228 from SFPD, 72 from SFMTA and 46 from SFFD.
Altogether, at least 253 of those requests have been denied and 243 are still pending.
“We cannot provide a deadline as to when requests will be reviewed,” said Mawuli Tugbenyoh, chief of policy for the Department of Human Resources. “All requests are being reviewed as quickly as possible with priority given to employees who have earlier deadlines for vaccination.”
The majority of exemptions submitted have been for religious reasons, rather than medical. The Department of Human Resources does not specify which religions may qualify for an exemption, but officials stated that they would consider “those with a sincerely held religious belief that prohibits them from receiving a vaccine.”
The department does not list medical reasons for an exemption, either. Dr. George Rutherford, an infectious disease expert at University of California, San Francisco, said there are no medical conditions that health experts agree should stop anyone from getting the vaccine.
“There have been 240 million vaccines delivered; we understand the side effect profile very well by now,” he said. “People with chronic conditions should be getting vaccinated first, not the last.”
The vast majority of The City’s 35,000 employees are vaccinated. As of Oct. 6, 2.2% of employees at the Health Department were unvaccinated, 6.4% at the Police Department, 4.9% at the Fire Department and the Mayor’s Office is 100% vaccinated.
SFMTA has the largest number of unvaccinated employees, with about 7.9% unvaccinated and 7.9% still not reporting as of Oct. 6.
Dante King, an organizer for the Black Employees Alliance, a coalition of Black city employees, said messages from members across different agencies spanning SFMTA, the police department and public health have been pouring in recently as the deadline to get vaccinated draws in and exemption requests remain in the process.
“There have been so many messages coming in from people in different departments, we’ve been overwhelmed,” said King. “It makes city employees lose faith in the process and what leadership is conveying.”