Pittsburgh, Philadelphia still have a vaccine mandate for city workers

Pennsylvania’s two largest cities aren’t abandoning COVID-19 vaccine mandates for city workers any time soon with compliance at 90%.

Updated: August 14, 2022 - 11:11pm

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Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, the largest cities in Pennsylvania with COVID-19 vaccine mandates for city workers still in place, won’t see those disappear any time soon.

Worker vaccination rates are above 90%, respective city officials said in confirming the mandates will remain. Philadelphia’s compliance rate is “nearly 100%,” according to a city press release. In Pittsburgh, the rate was 95% as of last December.

"Mayor (Jim Kenney) has been clear from the beginning that the intent of the mandate was to ensure we are doing everything we can to protect our employees and the individuals they serve," a Philadelphia city spokeswoman wrote in an email to The Center Square. "To that end, since announcing the mandate we have seen significant increases in the number of employees who have started and completed their vaccination series. We have no plans to remove or adjust the mandate at this time."

When asked whether the vaccine mandate would remain in place indefinitely or if Pittsburgh had specific metrics to end it, Maria Montano, press secretary for Mayor Ed Gainey, declined to comment.

The cities differ on exemptions, however. About 3,000 Philadelphia city employees have a vaccine exemption approved or pending. Yet Pittsburgh has only granted a few exemptions and is unlikely to expand that number.

“We recently decided to deny all religious exemptions that were requested,” Montano said. The city remains under bargaining with some unionized workers, however, so the city’s policy isn’t yet finalized.

About 68 Philadelphia city workers will be fired for noncompliance with the mandate. In February, Pittsburgh fired four city workers, but an updated figure was not available.

Keeping the mandates are in contrast to recent changes in federal guidance, which is loosening. On Thursday, the CDC announced it was moving away from quarantine recommendations, even for unvaccinated Americans. New York City, which has a strict vaccine mandate for city and private workers, is also relaxing. Mayor Eric Adams has not enforced the mandate for private businesses and has no plans to do so, according to Bloomberg.

Of Pennsylvania’s 10 largest cities, only Harrisburg also approved a vaccine mandate for city workers. However, that was repealed by an executive order in January 2022 when Mayor Wanda Williams took office.

“The cooperation of city employees, especially those who interface with the public and other persons on a regular basis, have bolstered the city’s efforts in preventing infection and curbing the spread of the virus to the community at large,” Williams wrote in executive order No. 4.