The City of Beverly Hills has released the results of a survey of city employees on their vaccination status. The results, obtained by the Courier, break down by department the percentage of inoculated individuals and also provide the reasons that unvaccinated individuals have not received the jab. The survey comes as firefighters within the Beverly Hills Fire Department (BHFD), the least vaccinated department in the city, face a Sept. 30 vaccination deadline by the County Department of Public Health (Public Health).
According to the survey, 78% of Beverly Hills employees are fully vaccinated, meaning that they have received either two doses of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine or the single dose of Johnson & Johnson. This number comes with several caveats, though. The survey received responses from 670 of the city’s 1,012 employees–a response rate of 66%. Respondents had between Aug. 9 and Aug. 15 to fill out the survey, which was entirely anonymous and voluntary, only identifying people by their department. Given the voluntary nature of the survey, it possibly overestimates the level of vaccination among city employees.
In the City of Beverly Hills, slightly over eight in 10 residents over the age of 12 have received at least one dose of the vaccine. A whopping 99% of residents 65 and over have received at least one dose.
Of the city departments, the Beverly Hills Police Department (BHPD) and the Beverly Hills Fire Department (BHFD) have the lowest level of vaccinated employees, with 64% and 63% respectively. For comparison, the department with the next lowest level of vaccination is finance, at 79% of employees. These results are in line with trends among other law enforcement agencies and fire departments across Los Angeles and the United States, raising concerns about the safety of those hired to keep the community safe.
The survey had a large range of response rates among departments, making any apples-to-apples comparison somewhat difficult. For example, 151 of the Police Department’s 223 employees returned the survey, a response rate of about 67%. Meanwhile, of the Fire Department’s 97 employees, 87 replied to the survey–a response rate around 90%, making their results more reliable and less likely to overestimate vaccination levels. Public Works, the city’s largest department with 255 employees, had a response rate of about 54%.
Even while Beverly Hills has balked at instituting any employee vaccination requirements, city firefighters nonetheless find themselves subject to a county vaccine mandate. All BHFD firefighters are also certified as Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) or paramedics, which makes them subject to the Aug. 12 Public Health order requiring vaccination of healthcare workers in the county. The order mandates that all healthcare workers receive their full vaccination by Sept. 30, only making exceptions for religious beliefs or medical reasons. Those exempt from the vaccine must wear masks and submit to regular COVID-19 testing.
The BHFD did not respond when asked what would happen to employees who did not comply with the rules. According to Public Health, “Each covered facility will be required to enforce the vaccine and testing requirements of their respective staff.” Beverly Hills Chief Communications Officer Keith Sterling said the city is exploring whether the health order applies to BHFD civilian staff in addition to firefighters.
In a response to the report by BHPD Acting Captain Max Subin on behalf of both Police and Fire Departments, Subin told the Courier, “We work to provide Police and Fire Department staff members with the latest County health guidance as they make their decisions regarding vaccination.”
Neither the BHPD nor the BHFD supplied the total number of COVID-19 infections in the departments.
“Since the vaccines were first made available earlier this year, the City has proactively communicated the most timely information to all employees,” Sterling told the Courier. Sterling pointed to messaging the city had done for its employees on vaccine eligibility, in addition to a limited amount of vaccinations administered by BHFD in April.
Law enforcement agencies across the state have reported lower rates of vaccination than their surrounding communities, even as COVID-19 killed more officers than all other causes combined in 2020, according to the National Law Enforcement Memorial and Museum. The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) reports that 52% of employees received at least one dose of the vaccine by July 21, according to the most recent data available provided to the Courier. Los Angeles County, by contrast, reported that 70% of residents had received at least one dose in the same time frame. Similarly, only 58% of the San Jose Police Department reported being vaccinated in June, compared to 68% of the region at the time.
The novel coronavirus has become the single most deadly threat for law enforcement officers in both 2020 and 2021, far outpacing deaths from other factors. On Aug. 3, Officer Becky Strong became the 10th LAPD officer to die due to complications of COVID-19.
The Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) has also lagged behind the city it serves in vaccination numbers. According to an LAFD spokesperson, only 54% of sworn members are fully vaccinated. (Interestingly, bucking the trend, the Culver City Fire Department told the Courier that of its 71 personnel, 93% are fully vaccinated.)
The Beverly Hills survey also organizes the objections and hesitations of those who have declined to get vaccinated so far. Most of the 145 unvaccinated employees who filled out the survey (30%) cited “Safety/Side Effects” as their primary reason for not being fully vaccinated, with 20% citing “Personal Beliefs” after that.
Sterling told the Courier that city employees could use supplemental COVID-19 paid sick leave provided by the state “to get the vaccine and recuperate from any side effects.”
Public health officials have struggled with messaging around the coronavirus and the vaccine, in part owing to occasional missteps, but also because of the politicization of the vaccine and ubiquitous misinformation. While nearly one-third of city employees who have not been vaccinated cite safety concerns, the vaccines have shown themselves to be overwhelmingly safe.
The most recent data on public opinion toward the vaccine from the non-profit Kaiser Family Foundation shows that 67% of adults say they have received the vaccine. Of those who haven’t received it, 14% say they will “definitely not” get vaccinated–a group that overwhelmingly reports not being worried about serious illness from the virus. Three fourths of those who say they will “definitely not” get the vaccine also say that the vaccine represents a greater risk to their health than the novel coronavirus, which has killed over 630,000 Americans.