BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – There are already incentives in place for first responders in Brevard County to get the COVID-19 vaccine. County commissioners voted in December to pay first responders, including firefighters, paramedics and EMS, $75 for each dose, $150 total if they get the vaccine.
County Commissioner John Tobia wants to make it mandatory. He’s scheduled to propose a new policy requiring firefighters, EMTs and paramedics to get the COVID-19 vaccine during the next commissioner’s meeting.
“I find very disturbing that they’re putting their personal preference above and beyond the safety of the residents they’re trusted to protect. Ideally, you wouldn’t have to do this policy, but unfortunately, when a majority are refusing to look out for the safety of citizens, it becomes a necessity,” Tobia said.
Tobia is referring to the results of a survey, conducted by the Brevard County Firefighters Union in December. Two-thirds of those who responded to the survey said they would not get the vaccine.
“When I found out a majority didn’t want it, I thought it was time for me as a commissioner to act,” Tobia said. “I want the people dealing directly with the most vulnerable citizens, those that are 65 and older and those are people in long-term care facilities. I want them to be protected.”
Michel Bramson, president of the Brevard County firefighter’s union said the commissioner didn’t even talk to him about this policy or get any insight from other firefighters. He said the policy would go against their rights.
“The idea of forcing firefighters to get the vaccine is about forcing someone to do an invasive procedure without CDC consent and documentation. It’s basically, what are the employee’s rights,” Bramson said.
Bramson said the union is not against the vaccine. He said they are encouraging their members to get the vaccine. He said the survey was sent out at the beginning of January and answered by 60-80 members out of the about 400 total members in the union.
“To try to get an understanding of what the pulse is for moving forward. This was at the very beginning stages of the vaccine rollout, so the information we have now weeks later is a lot more than we had then,” Bramson said.
News 6 asked Tobia if he would initiate a discussion about the policy with Bramson.
“Absolutely not. They’re more than welcome to discuss and make their decisions accordingly. I think it’s very difficult to make the argument that their preference is more important than the safety of the people they’ve entrusted to protect,” said Tobia.
Tobia shared with News 6 an email response from the director of the county’s health department, saying in part “EMTs not being vaccinated could definitely result in the transmission of the virus which could result in the death of a resident.”
Bramson said first responders are trained to use PPE and have protocols in place to help prevent the spread of disease when responding to emergencies. He said the union feels targeted.
“That amount of energy just to go straight after the firefighter’s union seems to be misdirected when our counterpart, the teacher’s union, has been doing nothing but begging for this and they’re not properly trained,” Bramson said.
As part of the policy, there would be accommodations for those who have disabilities or medical reasons for not getting the vaccine. All new and current employees would have to get the shot or find another job.
“Being employed by the county is a privilege, not a right. If they don’t want to get the vaccine they can move to another jurisdiction,” Tobia said.
Tobia is expected to present the proposal on Tuesday during the commissioner’s meeting. Because it’s a policy and not an ordinance, public comment and a vote would happen during the same meeting.
The proposal can be viewed below: