A Muni train passes by the San Francisco Police Department headquarters. Employees at both the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and the SFPD could be fired if they don't get vaccinated by November. (Harika Maddala/Bay City News)

SFMTA should fire its unvaccinated employees holding us hostage to COVID-19

San Francisco’s public transportation workers must comply with the mandate

By The Examiner Editorial Board

Anti-vaccination types tend to frame their resistance to medical science as a matter of “freedom.” Unfortunately, their fundamental misunderstanding of the concept puts many lives in danger, including their own.

Freedom does not entail the right to selfishly choose whatever pleases a single individual regardless of its impact on others. When someone makes choices that deprive others of liberty, they cannot claim the moral high ground as freedom’s champion. Such an individual undermines both freedom and the public good.

Public employees who continue to resist vaccination should keep this in mind. Last week, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency said at least 640 public transportation employees remained unvaccinated as of Sept. 30. Of these, SFMTA said 313 are bus or train operators who regularly come into direct contact with the public. Those who refuse to get their COVID jabs by next month could get fired.

“Almost all of these individuals would lose their jobs on Nov. 1, the deadline imposed by The City’s vaccine mandate, unless they are fully vaccinated,” reports Carly Graf of The Examiner.

At a time when The City should be emerging from the nightmare of the delta variant and returning to some semblance of normalcy, these irresponsible SFMTA employees threaten to keep us in a perpetual state of limbo. By refusing vaccination, they jeopardize the health of city commuters – and the health of The City’s economy, which is struggling after nearly two years of devastating shutdowns.

Unfortunately, disinformation and ignorance around the subject of vaccines have created a no-win situation for SFMTA officials. If they let the anti-vaccine employees win, they will endanger public health. But firing the employees will also create pain for city commuters.

“Their termination would result in ‘severe and unpredictable’ cuts to Muni service,” wrote Graf. “SFMTA is currently crafting a range of contingency service plans to prepare for what’s expected to be a significant cutback to the number of operators available. Additionally, the loss of these employees would affect vehicle and parking enforcement, school crossing guards and the agency’s ability to support large events and venues such as Outside Lands and the Chase Center.”

The looming showdown between unvaccinated SFMTA employees and The City could delay by 18 months Muni’s plans to return to pre-pandemic service levels. This means San Francisco’s public transit users can expect crowded buses and trains, and chaotic delays, until the system can prepare a new batch of fully vaccinated operators.

It all sounds hellishly inconvenient, but city leaders should follow through on threats to terminate unvaccinated employees who lack legitimate reasons for exemption. After a year and a half of pandemic lockdowns, it’s time to end our polite tolerance for people who reject science. It’s time for the rest of us to move forward – ruthlessly – without these cranks in our midst.

San Francisco is one of the most vaccinated cities in the nation, but a small number of anti-vaccine individuals want to continue to hold us hostage to COVID-19. While 75% of city residents are now fully vaccinated, the super-contagious delta variant has complicated efforts to achieve so-called herd immunity. The threshold for herd immunity varies from disease to disease, depending on how easily it spreads.

Some experts believe we may never achieve herd immunity from COVID, which means we must vaccinate as many people as possible to reduce the virus’ severity and transmissibility. This is why vaccination is crucial for public servants whose jobs put them into close contact with the public.

Yet some of The City’s public employees seem more afraid of vaccines than of COVID. This includes police officers, bus drivers and crossing guards who perform essential public services.

Frontline workers have been eligible for vaccination since early this year, so those still holding out appear impervious to facts and reason. Their selfish refusals to act in the public interest (and in their own best interest) are helping to prolong a pandemic that has already killed 700,000 Americans, including 70,000 Californians. Their deadly hesitancy deprives us all of our freedom to return to resume life without the threat of COVID.

Fortunately, it appears The City’s vaccine mandate is showing early signs of success.

“San Francisco’s vaccine mandate for certain city workers appears to have prompted about 1,000 employees to get vaccinated during the days preceding the deadline, as many faced the risk of losing their jobs if they continued to refuse the shot,” reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

Hopefully, the remaining SFMTA vaccine holdouts will smarten up and get their jabs before the deadline. If not, we urge city officials to carry out the threat to fire them, and to expedite new hiring and recruitment, so the rest of us can get on with our lives. This may require public transit riders to endure more inconvenience in the short term, but it’s better than risking lives and prolonging the pandemic.

Unfortunately, it seems some city employees may need to learn the hard way that you can’t even get a dishwashing job in San Francisco without proof of vaccination.

CoronavirusCOVID-19San FranciscotransportationVaccines

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