HAMMOND — The city of Hammond is hoping to see a higher percentage of its employees get the COVID-19 vaccine through a new, voluntary program.
Detailed in an executive order signed by Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. Thursday morning, the COVID-19 Voluntary Vaccination Incentive Policy offers three days off work to full-time employees who choose to get inoculated.
McDermott told The Times the city has been "toying with ideas" on how to get as many employees vaccinated as possible.
After Merrillville considered making the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for town staff, but ultimately did not, McDermott said he didn't think a similar mandate would go over well in Hammond.
"There's a segment of society that is untrusting of the COVID vaccines — in all three of them. There's a segment of society that doesn't trust any of them," McDermott said. "That proves true in the city of Hammond, as well, with our approximately 1,000 employees."
The voluntary program applies to any employee who has already received the Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine, McDermott said. And employees who have not been vaccinated have until Aug. 1 to receive the vaccine.
Employees must provide a completed vaccine card and signed affidavit affirming the documentation is true and correct to qualify, the executive order reads. The COVID-19 vaccine must be authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the complete number of doses must be administered, the order states.
The personal days an employee decides to take off must be approved by a supervisor or department head, and cannot result in overtime or "other unforeseen costs" due to a personnel shortage in the employee's department, the order reads.
"We didn't want it to cost us money," McDermott said. "If we only have 14 (police) officers scheduled that day, and that's the number of beats we have, you couldn't take a personal COVID day on that. But if there was a day where there are 16 officers scheduled, it's no big deal for us to have one of the officers taking a COVID day."
The paid time off program will provide the city with valuable information, McDermott said.
"With HIPAA laws, I can't go up to an employee as mayor and say, 'Did you get vaccinated?' I'm not supposed to ask about medical information; it's against the law," McDermott said.
He said the vaccine incentive program is a way around that.
"I think it's valuable information that we're going to have — a list of our employees that are vaccinated," McDermott said. "I think it's important for us to have, and the employee voluntarily provides it to get the three days off."
Those who don't wish to participate in the program won't lose anything, McDermott noted, adding employees will still have their regular personal and vacation days.
As enacted, the COVID-19 personal days will expire Dec. 31, 2022. Any days not used by then will not roll over, nor be compensated, the order states.