SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Hundreds of people gathered downtown Friday to protest the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for San Diego emergency responders.
Starting December 1, roughly more than a thousand police officers, firefighters, lifeguards, and paramedics will be fired because they have chosen to not abide by the vaccine mandate.
It's a choice that individuals like Paul Lotze said is only theirs to make, "My hope is that every parent can look at their children or grandchildren in the face and say I put your freedom before my paycheck."
Lotze works with the San Diego Fire Department. He told ABC 10news that not getting vaccinated is a freedom he and his colleagues have.
His concern is what will happen in a few months.
"If we move forward, the city and the citizens, their health and lives will be at risk, said Lotze"
According to the City of San Diego, about 22% of first responders have not been vaccinated. Lotze said resources are already impacted without the deficit in employees.
"We are right now occasionally shutting apparatus down and reducing our coverage throughout the city. And the police are also significantly understaffed right now," said Lotze.
Michelle Micas attended Friday's rally and believes this could cause safety concerns.
"What's going to happen to our city?" she asked. "If someone breaks into my home, or something happens to my children, or if I need an ambulance is the ambulance going to be there or available for us, or is the police going to be there for us to protect us?"
Micas along with other loved ones hoped that each first responders choice will be respected.
"Hopefully the Mayor allows the city employees to have a choice for themselves and not enforce a mandate," she stated.
Mayor Todd Gloria's office released this statement below:
"We continue to meet and confer with our recognized employee organizations on how to manage our unvaccinated employees. The City has a responsibility to protect our employees and the members of the public with whom they regularly interact. The health and welfare of the public and our employees outweigh any temporary staffing issues. Vaccines are safe, effective, free and widely available. I applaud the more than 80% of San Diego County residents who have been vaccinated to date and encourage everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated so we can end this pandemic."
The San Diego Police Officer Association's Vice President, Keelan McCullough, released this statement:
"From the beginning of this pandemic, our officers have been dedicated to preventing the spread of COVID-19. Whether it was adhering to the mask requirements, a willingness to submit to testing, and a desire to be prioritized as the first group to be eligible to be vaccinated, San Diego police officers have taken this pandemic seriously.
However, some of our members -- many who have already endured COVID-19 at some point over the past year and a half -- have reservations about forced vaccinations. As a result, the heavy-handed approach of a vaccine mandate threatens the strength of our department, as many of our officers have indicated a preference to work for a different agency if the City of San Diego requires vaccinations. The result of such a mass departure would be devastating to our department and the safety of all San Diego citizens. Compounding this issue is the fact that these officers will remain unvaccinated, meaning the city will be creating a public safety crisis while making no impact on the public health crisis.
We ultimately believe our city's leaders should not create a public safety crisis when there are many alternative choices available -- including the requirement of testing for those who remain unvaccinated, as many agencies throughout the county, state, and country have implemented -- that would easily avert such a crisis."