Vaccinations rise sharply among crucial New York workers as the city’s mandate arrives.

By Troy Closson, Joseph Goldstein and Azi Paybarah

A demonstration on Thursday drew many city workers the New York City mayor’s official residence to protest a vaccine mandate. But crucial departments reported sharp upticks in vaccinations.
A demonstration on Thursday drew many city workers the New York City mayor’s official residence to protest a vaccine mandate. But crucial departments reported sharp upticks in vaccinations.Credit...James Estrin/The New York Times

Vaccination rates in crucial New York City departments have risen over the last week as Friday’s deadline loomed for police officers, firefighters, sanitation workers and other city employees to receive a first dose of a Covid vaccine.

The most startling increase was in the Sanitation Department, whose number of vaccinated workers rose from 67 percent on Thursday to 76 percent as of Friday evening, according to City Hall. “Very, very encouraging progress,” tweeted Mitch Schwartz, a spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The Police Department said its overall vaccination rate had reached 84 percent by Friday evening, up from less than 75 percent last week.

And the Fire Department said that 77 percent of its employees had received at least one dose by Friday evening, up from 69 percent earlier in the day. That includes 72 percent of firefighters, 84 percent of the emergency medical technicians and paramedics employed by the F.D.N.Y., and 90 percent of its civilian staff, the department said.

Tensions among some New Yorkers had been rising as the timetable for more than 300,000 city workers to receive a Covid vaccination neared its end. The official deadline was Friday at 5 p.m., but unvaccinated workers will be allowed to work until Monday before being placed on unpaid leave.

Mr. de Blasio has said he does not expect significant disruptions to government agencies or city life from potential staffing shortages on Monday, and the rising vaccination rates among some departments offered at least some validation for his optimism.

Still, resistance in the Fire Department was underscored when six New York City firefighters were relieved of duty and left facing possible penalties after driving to the office of a state senator on Friday, confronting his staff members over the city’s vaccine mandate and asking for his home address.

The state senator, Zellnor Myrie, said that he was not present when they arrived at his office in the morning. But staff members told him that the firefighters, who were members of Ladder 113 in the Prospect Lefferts Gardens area of Brooklyn, said the mandate would result in a reduction of emergency services in the city — and that the officials responsible for it would “have blood on their hands.”

The F.D.A. has authorized booster shots for millions of recipients of the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. Pfizer and Moderna recipients who are eligible for a booster include people 65 and older, and younger adults at high risk of severe Covid-19 because of medical conditions or where they work. Eligible Pfizer and Moderna recipients can get a booster at least six months after their second dose. All Johnson & Johnson recipients will be eligible for a second shot at least two months after the first.

Yes. The F.D.A. has updated its authorizations to allow medical providers to boost people with a different vaccine than the one they initially received, a strategy known as “mix and match.” Whether you received Moderna, Johnson & Johnson or Pfizer-BioNTech, you may receive a booster of any other vaccine. Regulators have not recommended any one vaccine over another as a booster. They have also remained silent on whether it is preferable to stick with the same vaccine when possible.

The C.D.C. has said the conditions that qualify a person for a booster shot include: hypertension and heart disease; diabetes or obesity; cancer or blood disorders; weakened immune system; chronic lung, kidney or liver disease; dementia and certain disabilities. Pregnant women and current and former smokers are also eligible.

The F.D.A. authorized boosters for workers whose jobs put them at high risk of exposure to potentially infectious people. The C.D.C. says that group includes: emergency medical workers; education workers; food and agriculture workers; manufacturing workers; corrections workers; U.S. Postal Service workers; public transit workers; grocery store workers.

Yes. The C.D.C. says the Covid vaccine may be administered without regard to the timing of other vaccines, and many pharmacy sites are allowing people to schedule a flu shot at the same time as a booster dose.

Mr. Myrie said his staff had been “rattled” by the experience and called the firefighters’ actions “highly inappropriate.” Daniel A. Nigro, the fire commissioner, said in a statement that the firefighters would face disciplinary action.

“This is a highly inappropriate act by on-duty members of this department who should only be concerned with responding to emergencies and helping New Yorkers and not harassing an elected official and his staff,” Daniel A. Nigro, the fire commissioner, said in a statement.

A union representing firefighters did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In addition, the police commissioner, Dermot F. Shea, said that thousands of people in his department had filed for exemptions, which can be filed on medical or religious grounds. He said that those who had done so by Wednesday would be allowed to work until their applications were reviewed, so long as they submitted to weekly testing.

The week ahead continued to hold uncertainty. Fire officials said they were expecting the closure of up to 20 percent of fire stations; Joe Borelli, a Republican City Council member who represents part of Staten Island, wrote on Twitter on Friday that five stations in Manhattan and the Bronx had already been shuttered.

And New Yorkers in some parts of Staten Island and Brooklyn have begun to report delays in trash collection and garbage buildups in their neighborhoods that officials say may continue because of staffing gaps.

“We’re definitely seeing that problem in some parts of the city,” Mr. de Blasio said on Thursday, “and it’s unacceptable.”