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Firefighters sue LA County over vaccination mandate

The lawsuit is the latest in a series of suits filed by rank-and-file firefighters and police officers in the Los Angeles area.

(CN) — A group of 574 Los Angeles County firefighters has filed a lawsuit over the county's Covid vaccination mandate. Though the plaintiffs represent just 12% of the fire department's total personnel, the lawsuit is the latest in a series of suits filed by rank-and-file firefighters and police officers in the LA area aimed at overturning the vaccination mandates passed by local governments.

The complaint, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, claims the county's vaccination mandate violates the firefighters' "constitutional right to autonomous privacy."

LA County Board of Supervisors chair Hilda Solis declined to comment.

"It is the declared policy of this state that no person be forced to accept an experimental medical treatment without voluntary consent," the firefighters say in their lawsuit. They repeatedly call the Covid vaccines "experimental" and say "none of the Covid vaccines has been approved by the FDA under the statutory approval requirements of the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act."

That's not exactly true: In August, the FDA approved the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which is being marketed now as Comirnaty.

"The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been formally approved, so if their concern is that, they can take the Pfizer vaccine," said Dr. Peter Hotez, a vaccine scientist and the dean for the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

Vaccines by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson have emergency use authorization and are still awaiting full FDA approval.

"They're hardly experimental," Hotez said. "Emergency use authorization is based on a careful system of checks and balances."

The suit also claims that since people who are vaccinated can still transmit Covid to others, vaccine mandates are less effective than mask wearing and regular testing. But according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "SARS-CoV-2 transmission between unvaccinated persons is the primary cause of continued spread."

"This is a deeply dishonest lawsuit," said Dorit Reiss, a professor at UC Hastings College of the Law, in an email. "A growing body of evidence shows vaccines can slow the spread of Covid-19 and reduce transmission. That's where the evidence is."

The plaintiff's attorney, Kevin McBride, also represents a group of more than 500 city of LA firefighters in their lawsuit over the city's vaccination mandate.

"If someone wants to take a vaccine to protect themselves, that’s probably a good idea," said McBride. "To think you make firefighters take a vaccine so you don’t get sick, that’s when the science breaks down."

McBride said that he himself has not been vaccinated.

"I’ve never taken a vaccine," he said. "I don’t take any medicine. This is only me, personally. It’s not a crusade."

The LA County Fire Department protects a sprawling area — more than 2,300 square miles surrounding of the city of Los Angeles — from Malibu in the west to Pomona roughly 60 miles to the east. In between, it patrols the cities of West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Inglewood and Palmdale.

Passed by the Board of Supervisors in August, the county's vaccination mandate went into effect more than a month ago, on Oct. 1. According to the county's data, roughly 78% of the county's 101,575 employees have been fully vaccinated and just 3,637 have submitted a request for an exemption.

Unvaccinated employees have been given a 45-day deadline to show proof of full vaccination. Should they miss that deadline, workers will be suspended for five days. After that, they will be given another 30 days to get vaccinated, after which time they may be fired.

"The vaccination policy is intended to save lives, not to punish employees based on their vaccination status," said LA County spokesman Jesus Ruiz in an email.

Only 68% of LA County firefighters have been fully vaccinated.

The sheriff's department has, by far, the lowest vaccination rate of any department, with only 52% of employees reporting full vaccination. Sheriff Alex Villanueva has said he won't enforce the mandate. In a letter to the Board of Supervisors last week, Villanueva warned of a mass exodus should the county hold firm.

"With the pandemic waning, there is no justification for your mandate," he wrote in the letter. "This mandate is like putting up storm windows after the storm has passed."

While down from the summer surge — and definitely lower than a year ago — daily case rates indicate the pandemic is hardly waning: LA County continues to see at or above 1,000 new Covid cases per day.

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