San Jose Police Chief Anthony Mata talks to media about the new Children’s Advocacy Center in San Jose, Calif., on April 15, 2021. Santa Clara County Supervisor Susan Ellenberg, standing behind Mata, toured the facility as well as other county leaders and community partners. (Jana Kadah/Bay City News)

Amid threats of losing more than 100 San Jose police officers as a result of the city’s employee vaccine mandate, the city has changed its position.

The change comes after a last-minute deal reached with the San Jose Police Officers’ Association, giving officers the option to get tested twice a week if they do not want to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

City officials have extended the same policy to all city employees, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said Friday.

“Our first responsibility to our community is to be able to be there when there’s a 911 call to provide emergency medical response or to provide police response,” Mayor Sam Liccardo said. “So, we’re going to move at a pace that prods folks along.”

The last-minute deal couldn’t have come any later, as Friday was the deadline for city employees to be vaccinated or be terminated unless they could prove religious or medical exemptions.

But Liccardo said the more lenient policy with intermediate sanctions is what he always believed to be the best route.

“Trying to force the matter to individuals who maybe have a different mindset can evoke the kinds of reaction that can be very counterproductive,” the mayor said. “So, it’s important for us to move collaboratively and not simply to try to race to some judgment or determination.”

As of Friday, 92 percent of the city’s 7,067 employees were vaccinated. About 34 percent of the city’s unvaccinated employees come from the city’s fire and police departments.

Roughly 92 percent of the city’s 603 firefighters are vaccinated. Police have a lower vaccination rate that currently sits at 86 percent of its 1,103 sworn officers, according to Rachel Davis, Liccardo’s press secretary.

Liccardo noted that dozens of officers, however, have received vaccination exemptions.

But those who remain unvaccinated without validated exemptions are not getting off scot-free and the future of their employment remains uncertain.

Unvaccinated employees without exemptions will receive a one-week suspension without pay and the city said it will “consider further action,” which could include termination, for those who remain unvaccinated after Dec. 31.

“We want to apply intermediate sanctions in the hope that we can persuade everybody to come along,” Liccardo said. “Termination is at the end of that road, and we don’t want to race there, we want to make sure everybody gets good information … and (makes) good decisions.”

Still the question for many remains: why mandate vaccines when San Jose and Santa Clara County have vaccination rates over 85 percent?

In fact, San Jose has the highest vaccination rates among the 10 largest cities in the county, with 93 percent of eligible individuals with at least one dose with the vaccine.

Santa Clara County is also a regional leader, with 88.7 percent of the eligible population inoculated with at least one dose.

It was a question posed by several members during public comment to the City Council during the vaccine mandate vote in early September, and frequently asked across social media platforms.

The mayor articulated on Friday that it’s because it’s simply much safer to be vaccinated.

He said it helps reduce the chances of more variants developing, reduces the risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19 and protects other employees from getting infected.

And while county health officials previously described herd immunity to be accomplished when 85 percent of the population was vaccinated, Liccardo said definitions have changed.

“The experts from the CDC, and from local universities tell us that nobody yet really knows what herd immunity is (for COVID),” Liccardo said. “We’ve heard numbers like 80, 85, 70 percent for other viruses … But the challenge with every new virus is you simply don’t know.”

Santa Clara County enacted its own employee vaccine mandate in early September as well, and on Friday, state officials announced that all eligible students, 12 years and older, in public and private schools are required to get the vaccine, making California the first state in the nation to do so.