Hawaii government workers, contractors rushed to get vaccinated as mandates went into effect

Published: Sep. 21, 2021 at 4:23 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 21, 2021 at 5:27 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The number of state and county employees who got the COVID-19 vaccine jumped in recent weeks after mandates were announced and went into effect.

In late August, the vaccination rate for the Public Safety Department was 77% ― the lowest for any state agency. A spokesperson said the rate now stands at 84%.

Meanwhile, a veteran Honolulu police officer chose to get the shot after he told Hawaii News Now earlier this month that he was put on leave without pay and served termination papers.

He refused to request a religious or medical exemption because he didn’t feel like he qualified.

Two other HPD officers in the same situation also ended up getting vaccinated.

But a lifeguard with Ocean Safety was fired last week for refusing to comply with the city’s vaccine mandate. He is the only city worker so far to be terminated because of the policy.

“Some people are at home on unpaid leave,” said Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi. “Some discussions are going on. Everybody has the opportunity to change their mind.”

A total of 885 city employees have requested exemptions.

“To my knowledge, no one has been denied a religious exemption,” said Blangiardi.

But the idea of weekly testing has pushed some toward compliance.

That includes some private contractors like TheBus and Handi-Van drivers ― essential workers who found themselves roped in under the city’s current policy.

The union representing the nearly 2,000 drivers said the number of unvaccinated in their ranks has been cut in half ― to about 400.

“Quite a few of them actually had gotten their vaccinations prior to the mandate. Slowly as the mandate came out, a little more started to get vaccinated,” said Wayne Kaululaau, president of Hawaii Teamsters Local 996.

Kaululaau said many of their members were not happy that the city didn’t give them a choice. He said they are negotiating a contract with the city over that issue.

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