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Less than half of first responders are vaccinated, councilmember says it's unacceptable: 'they don't need to be here'

"If they don't like (vaccine mandate), hell, let them sue us! Hell, we are going to win because they will be dead by that time," Memphis Councilman Edmund Ford Sr.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Low vaccination rates among city employees sparked an angry outburst during Monday's Memphis City Council committee hearing. The head of human resources for the city showed council members vaccine hesitancy is widespread throughout the city of Memphis.

City-data shows out of 8,300 city employees at least 50% are vaccinated. And, when you break it down by departments police is 47% vaccinated, fire is 48% vaccinated, IT is 46% and Solid waste is 37%. Executive, human resources, and city judges had more than 75% of their departments vaccinated. This didn't sit well with Memphis City Councilman Edmund Ford Sr.

"It's time to wake the hell up," he said. "If these people don't want to take these vaccinations, they don't need to be here," Ford said.

Councilman Ford, who also runs a funeral home, said his business is overwhelmed with people who died from COVID. 

"We are tired of burying y'all! But I will! That's how I make my money!" Ford said. "I just buried a woman Saturday. I got her daughter now. She just died. COVID is serious business." 

He said it is time for city employees to protect themselves and others around them. He wants the vaccine mandated for all city employees.  

"This is what y'all need to do. Mandate it!" Ford said. "If they don't like it, hell, let them sue us. Hell, we are going to win because they will be dead by that time."

City Councilman Jeff Warren is a Family Medicine Physician at Primary Care Specialists. He is the only other member who agreed with Ford. Councilmember Worth Morgan said he wants to protect employees but because the city is already having difficulties in hiring. He's concerned about how a vaccine mandate would further impact staffing.

"The last thing I want to do is implement a policy that would then cause an exodus of employees," Morgan said.

Since January, the city has used incentives to promote voluntary vaccination. Right now, employees can get up to $250 and paid vaccine recuperation time. But Ford made the point that the community shouldn't have to worry about getting COVID from a first responder, especially if they are already calling about a medical emergency.

"Why the hell would I want a fire department to come to me, and he didn't take no doggone shots himself?" Ford said.

President Joe Biden plans on using OSHA to enforce vaccine mandates for private businesses with more than 100 workers. The head of human resources for the city said this mandate would probably include the City of Memphis but they are waiting for more information.

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