Hundreds of DC Fire and EMS workers file for COVID vaccination exemption

Of the 475 religious exemption requests for the COVID-19 vaccine so far filed with D.C., the vast majority — 419 — have come from those in fire and EMS, according to City Administrator Kevin Donahue.

“None have been denied thus far,” Donahue said. “They’re all going under the deliberation and scrutiny that are required under federal law.”

D.C. has ordered that all licensed health care workers, including firefighters, must get at least one dose of the vaccine by Sept. 30 or risk losing their licenses and possibly their jobs.

Donahue said any punitive action probably wouldn’t take place until October.

He added that the aim is to get people vaccinated, “not to punish. By design, suspensions would not take effect until after employees have had a couple of weeks to be reminded of their obligations. So the initial interaction between the employer and an employee who has not complied is a reminder and then a conference.”

On Monday, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser ordered that all city school workers will need to be vaccinated against the coronavirus by November.

The requirement includes public and private schools, as well as day care staff, bus drivers, security staff and coaches.

The mayor’s order starts Nov. 1. There are no options to opt out with weekly testing.

In addition, student-athletes 12 and older also have to be vaccinated by Nov. 1.

The announcement comes weeks into a school year that has left parents frustrated with inconsistent communication and school protocols.

The Washington Teachers Union said “there must be accommodations, bargained with the union, for those with legitimate religious or medical exemptions, and an agreement on how to handle people who don’t fall under these exemptions.”

The D.C. Council urged Bowser to drop the COVID testing option for school workers in August.

In early August, Bowser said all D.C. government employees — including D.C. Public Schools teachers and staff — have until Sept. 19 to be fully vaccinated or submit to a weekly COVID-19 test. D.C. charter schools also announced a similar requirement.

A council hearing focused on the first few weeks of the school year in D.C. is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.

WTOP’s Acacia James contributed to this report.

Will Vitka

William Vitka is a Digital Editor and reporter for He's been in the news industry for over a decade. Before joining WTOP, he worked for CBS News, Stuff Magazine, The New York Post and wrote a variety of books—about a dozen of them, with more to come.

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