"I am vaccinated, but a lot of people aren't and it's a personal choice," said FOP President John McNesby.
PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- COVID-19 vaccination rates among Philadelphia firefighters and police officers lag behind other major cities, according to new data from the city.
Octavia Tokley knows the devastating consequences of the coronavirus. Her husband, Erin, died from the virus in March 2021.
He was a 24-year veteran of the police department and leaves behind a young daughter.
"To be left without my husband and my children to be left without their father, for a while, we didn't even know how to exist," said Tokley.
She's now pleading for unvaccinated officers and firefighters to get inoculated.
Her husband was set to get the shot when he became ill.
"Once he passed I had to go through his emails to get some information and saw an email from the FOP and his date to get vaccinated was March 11, the day of his funeral," Tokley said.
Vaccination rates for fire and police are between 51% and 60%. By comparison, Chicago's rate is between 57% and 68% and Los Angeles is between 58% and 68%.
Some other major cities in the US have threatened termination if city employees don't get vaccinated, but Philadelphia has taken a softer stance.
"Some of our folks just don't want to do it, and they can't be forced to do it. Again, I am vaccinated. But a lot of people aren't and it's a personal choice," said FOP President John McNesby.
He says the city's numbers may be higher given some employees lack computer access, simple failure to upload vaccination proof or were vaccinated outside of Philadelphia.
The Mayor's office released a statement that reads in part, "there's still plenty of work to do. To help encourage city employees to get vaccinated, we continue to provide educational resources..."
"We just hope we don't lose anyone else," said McNesby.
Some critics say police officers and firefighters have a duty to those with whom they come in contact to be vaccinated. But for some of the men and women in blue, it's a personal choice and one they say should be respected.