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Tampa To Require COVID Vaccinations For City Employees

 Tampa Mayor Jane Castor announced COVID-19 vaccinations will be required for all city employees.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor announced COVID-19 vaccinations will be required for all city employees.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said the recent surge in cases "is a crisis threatening our community, and the most effective way to halt the spread is with vaccinations."

The city of Tampa is joining other municipalities in mandating vaccines for their employees.

A spokesperson for Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said they are working out the finer points with unions, but the city's approximately 4,700 employees are required to be vaccinated with both doses by Sept. 30.

At a press conference with union leaders and an emergency medicine physician on Wednesday, Castor said the decision was hers and was made to protect both Tampa employees and the wider public.

“If you have not been vaccinated, you have somewhere in the range of 100 percent chance of contracting the COVID virus," Castor said.

Castor spoke of her 30 years as a police officer, saying she understands the importance of freedom. But also mentioned the vaccines for polio and measles and the damage both of those diseases wrought here before the vaccines were made available.

When asked about whether employees who refuse to be vaccinated might be terminated, Castor said no.

"We're not going to talk about termination, that's not going to happen," Castor said. "Our city of Tampa team is a great team and we're going to work with individuals who feel this vaccine is not in their best interest.”

Castor said employees who don’t choose to accept the vaccine can get rapid tests weekly at the city’s sites in Al Lopez Park and Al Barnes Park and show a negative test, and must wear an N95 mask to work.

Still others who believe they have had COVID already can get tested for antibodies.

Castor estimates that about 40% of the city’s employees have been vaccinated against COVID-19. But the city will be working with the state health department to verify vaccine status for the employees, so they don’t have to “check cards.”

Dr. Jason Wilson, an emergency medicine physician at Tampa General Hospital, said it was important for the public to note new information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Really important data coming out this week from Los Angeles, from the CDC, showing at least a fivefold increase in protection against even getting the delta variant or any variant of COVID we know of so far, if you're vaccinated compared to not vaccinated,” Wilson said.

He told reporters, “The biggest risk factor for whether you get hospitalized for COVID or go home with COVID is vaccination status.”

Wilson weighed risks and benefits of the vaccine aloud: “I have yet to admit, intubate, or take care of a critically ill patient who is that way because they got vaccinated, because of a vaccine side-effect.”

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Susan Giles Wantuck is our midday news host, and a producer and reporter for WUSF Public Media who focuses her storytelling on arts, culture and history.