Vaccine bottles

Local officials hope FDA approval for the Pfizer vaccine will lead some to seek out a shot to stem the tide of COVID-19. But they are stopping short of mandating shots for local public employees. Photo courtesy Sutter Health

Even after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave full approval for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for anyone 16 or older last month, San Mateo County and other local public entities still aren’t mandating vaccination for staff.

Pacifica City Manager Kevin Woodhouse said his city is in the process of reviewing its vaccine policy. The city of Half Moon Bay isn’t considering a vaccine mandate because, it says, virtually all of its two-dozen staff are already vaccinated.

County Chief Communications Officer Michelle Durand confirmed in an email to the Tribune that the county is not implementing a vaccine mandate for staff. County Health officials said they hope that FDA approval gives residents more information about the safety of the vaccines but that no mandate is forthcoming.

“We are thrilled to learn of the Food and Drug Administration’s full approval of the Pfizer vaccine following many months of emergency use authorization,” County Health Chief Louise Rogers wrote in a press release. “... We are hopeful that residents who have been hesitant and had questions about the vaccine until now will gain confidence and take action to protect themselves and their loved ones and receive vaccinations.”

Although the state of California has not issued a statewide vaccine mandate for residents, all California state employees now must be vaccinated or get tested weekly for COVID-19. Cities and local jurisdictions have made their own mandates, some allowing for testing, some not. The city of San Francisco has given its employees 10 weeks since the FDA approval to get a shot and is now requiring proof of vaccines for all residents who wish to enter restaurants, bars and gyms or to attend large events. The city of Los Angeles has set Oct. 1 as the date by which all its employees, including firefighters and police, must get shots. Testing out is not an option there.

The San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office isn’t requiring shots, and has not disclosed how many of its employees remain unvaccinated. But Acting Public Information Officer Lt. Eamonn Allen said the department is complying with the state’s requirement that all staff working in county jails must either prove they are vaccinated or complete weekly testing. Allen also noted that the office has been testing staff regularly for COVID-19 since July of 2020.

FDA approval also could potentially pave the way for schools to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for eligible students, but the California Legislature has yet to indicate it will add the Pfizer vaccine to the list of required immunizations to attend public schools. As of this month, the Pfizer vaccine is fully approved only for people 16 or older, so relatively few students would be eligible for the shot should it be mandated. Meanwhile, all staff at public schools statewide must be vaccinated or tested weekly.

Cabrillo Unified School District Superintendent Sean McPhetridge said the state’s health department is providing student testing this year, and the Half Moon Bay district has signed up to provide testing to students and any unvaccinated staff.

“... We just finalized that sign-up with them last week, so hopefully we will be able to work with them and provide testing opportunities to students and unvaccinated staff soon,” McPhetridge wrote.

Sarah Wright is the deputy editor for the Review. She reports on unincorporated San Mateo County and local schools. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Foreign Service from Georgetown University and has worked in policy and communications in Washington, D.C.

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