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New Mexico county vaccinates first responders under mandate

New Mexico county vaccinates first responders under mandate

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LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) — County officials in southern New Mexico have said most of the first responders in Doña Ana County, which includes Las Cruces, have received at least one of the two doses of coronavirus vaccine under a county mandate, despite questions about requiring the vaccination.

County Manager Fernando Macias told the Las Cruces Sun-News that 195 county employees of the 203 staff subject to the directive of the county detention center were at least partially vaccinated, while the remaining eight had registered or had an approved waiver.

County employees were told last month they were required to receive COVID-19 vaccines to continue working for the county, despite legal questions about requiring a vaccine only approved for emergency use.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in August that “vaccines are not allowed to be mandatory” while they only have emergency use authorization.

Officials said 140 employees at the Doña Ana sheriff’s office had been vaccinated out of 156, and 26 out of the 31 county fire personnel.

Macias confirmed that employees were scheduled to receive COVID-19 vaccinations on Friday, and employees who were ordered to appear on their day off would be compensated, he said.

However, volunteer firefighters were “strongly encouraged” but not required to receive vaccination under the same directive. Macias said 29 out of 132 active volunteers were at least partly vaccinated as of Friday. Macias said volunteer firefighters were not included because of limited vaccine dosage supply.

Two labor unions representing first responders questioned the directive and asked the county to come to the bargaining table. The Communication Workers of America, representing county deputies, filed a former demand earlier this month with the county attorney's office, officials said.

However, Macias told the Sun-News that no such demand was pending.

“We have been made aware that employees have been informed that if they refuse to be vaccinated for COVID 19, they will be terminated,” staff representative Robin Gould said in the demand, arguing that the directive would be subject to grievances or prohibited.

Santa Fe attorney Nancy Ana Garner said she has also notified the county of an impending lawsuit seeking an injunction against the directive. Garner said she received no response on a Feb. 8 cease and desist letter.

Macias said he would not comment on pending or threatened litigation.

For copyright information, check with the distributor of this item, Las Cruces Sun-News.

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