DENVER (CBS4) – “I will not let them violate my constitutional rights and force me to be stuck with a needle with their vaccines,” said Denver police officer Dave Curtis. Curtis says he will retire early, rather than receiving the COVID vaccine by a Thursday deadline for city employees.
He was part of a lawsuit by seven officers asking a judge to force the city to back down from requiring vaccination. The judge rejected it early Wednesday, saying they should have first taken their objections to the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment.
“What the court said ultimately was, ‘Hey I don’t have jurisdiction here’ and that’s why it got dismissed,” said attorney and legal analyst Raj Chohan.
Denver’s move along with that of a growing number of communities and companies are surviving nearly all court challenges.
“In an emergency situation the courts are saying no, the state governments, the local governments, are free to enact these sorts of mandates as long as there’s some kind of reasonable accommodation for people who can’t or won’t do it,” said Chohan.
The courts at lower levels are often seeing procedural issues. But when cases go into the federal system, they often refer to a case more than 100 years old when looking at constitutional rights.
“1905, Jacobson v. Massachusetts,” said Chohan. “That was a case in which a person didn’t want to get the smallpox vaccine because they were concerned about the side effects of the vaccine. And you saw a lot of same arguments here today.”
But the Supreme Court set precedent by ruling against Henning Jacobson in a 7-2 vote and later reaffirmed it in 1922, in Zucht v. King, ruling a school district could refuse admission to a student who had not gotten a required vaccination.
One of the area’s larger private employers, United Airlines is among the companies getting tough on vaccination. United says 99% of its workforce that has not applied for an exemption is now vaccinated. By Monday at midnight this week, the airline required its workers to upload a copy of their vaccine certificates.
“Our flight attendants are a microcosm of the population of the United States,” said Ken Kyle, local council President for the Association of Flight Attendants, a group of about 1900 flight attendants based in Denver and Phoenix.
“We have very, very pro vaccination flight attendants and we have some very anti vaccination flight attendants. The airline already flies to some destinations where vaccines are required, like in Africa. Flights to Canada must now be staffed by people who are vaccinated for COVID-19.
United has made reasonable accommodations for those with religious or medical reasons, says Kyle.
“The company, as things stand now, does seem to be permitted to move forward with establishing their deadline … and moving forward.”
United’s CEO Scott Kirby says the company will now start the process of terminating about 590 people nationwide who didn’t upload their vaccine cards and did not apply for exemptions.
Officer Dave Curtis says he will lose about $600,000 in compensation over the years ahead for retiring early, but won’t get the shot to continue his job policing at DIA.
“I’m not opposed to the vaccine, I’m opposed to them taking the decision away from me,” he said.
With the Pfizer vaccine now approved for regular use and the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccine believed not far behind, the pressure will likely increase.
“What we’re seeing is an FDA that’s going to be approving all of the vaccines at some point for regular use. And that’s really going to take away the idea that these are experimental and that they’re not safe,” said Chohan. And the principle of protecting the health of the public at-large gets clearer he believes when considering an even more serious pandemic, or variant of COVID-19.
“What happens if a very, very serious and deadly disease that has a shorter incubation period lands in the U.S. and we’ve got a widespread pandemic in which immediate action is necessary and we have, let’s say. a vaccine to deal with that?”