The Los Angeles County sheriff is refusing to enforce a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for his employees that went into full effect Friday, claiming he would immediately lose a chunk of his workforce if he did. “I’m not forcing anyone,” Sheriff Alex Villanueva said during a Facebook Live Q&A on Thursday. “The issue has become so politicized, there are entire groups of employees who are willing to be fired and laid off rather than get vaccinated, so I don’t want to be in a position to lose 5, 10% of my workforce overnight.”LA Sheriff Villanueva says that he will not enforce a vaccine mandate, saying employees are willing to get fired over it. “I don’t want to be in a position to lose 5, 10% of my workforce overnight on a vaccine mandate.” pic.twitter.com/9DNJTeJUoY— Alene Tchekmedyian (@AleneTchek) October 7, 2021
Villanueva, who has been hostile toward mask mandates as well, oversees the largest sheriff’s department in the country, with around 18,000 employees. His announcement came a day after Los Angeles city officials approved a stringent mandate that requires proof of full vaccination for workers and patrons at bars, restaurants, sports venues and other public locations starting Nov. 4.Villanueva also cited budget cuts in his reasoning, saying that “we have to pick and choose” which county mandates to enforce. The county cut Villanueva’s $3.6 billion budget for 2021-2022 by 4%.There does appear to be vaccine resistance among Los Angeles law enforcement to comply with the rule passed in August requiring all county employees be vaccinated against the virus. Last month, for example, six Los Angeles Police Department officers sued over the city’s version of the rule. Despite Villanueva’s protestations, there’s strong evidence that enforcing vaccine mandates gets vaccine-hesitant people to change their minds rather than lose their jobs. Vaccination rates among LAPD officers have shot up to at least 65% following the announcement about a mandate, the police chief said this week. That’s about 20% higher than the numbers from mid-September. It’s unclear how many of Villanueva’s employees are vaccinated, but there’s some indication the rate is below average. In mid-August, months after vaccines were widely available to everyone, his department said just 26% of its staff had been vaccinated at sheriff’s office clinics. That didn’t include employees vaccinated elsewhere.