The Phoenix Flyer

An emotional FL firefighter paramedic pushes back against COVID-19 vaccine requirements

By: - November 16, 2021 1:27 pm

Orange County firefighter paramedic Wendy Williams testifies before the Florida Senate on November 16, 2021. Credit: Screenshot/Florida Channel.

Several anti-vaccine activists and an emotional first responder offered testimony against COVID-19 vaccine mandates by employers at a legislative meeting in the Florida Senate, claiming that forced vaccines threaten personal freedoms.

Wendy Williams, a firefighter paramedic in Orange County, told state lawmakers from the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday that she and other first responders suffered mental distress from vaccine requirements for workers.

Williams said she’s been serving in her position for 22 years and “our department is under a vaccine mandate forced by our Orange County Mayor [Jerry] Demings.” She did not specify whether she got the vaccine or not at the committee hearing.

But at the hearing, she did say that she had survived COVID-19. After the passionate testimony, people in the audience  began clapping, but Appropriations Chair Kelli Stargel halted the clapping.

However, Stargel thanked Williams for her service.

“This mandate that you all are going to pass today is helping my family,” Williams said. “I have listened to the cries of people I love, my brothers and sisters, because of the stress of having to be forced to do something.”

She added: “Something that is a choice, a personal choice. As a woman, I have a choice of what I do to my body.”

Several other Florida firefighters testified at other meetings in the Florida House and Senate Monday, the first day of the special legislative session that also addresses vaccine and mask mandates in schools.

State Sen. Danny Burgess, a Republican representing parts of Hillsborough, Pasco and Polk counties, presented his bill, SB 2B, that would prohibit worker vaccine mandates unless they allow exemptions including medical or religious purposes, plus immunity from recovering from COVID. In addition, workers could choose to undergo testing and wear face masks. That bill was approved by a vote of 13-6.

“We trusted essential workers to protect us during the lockdowns, they went to their jobs when there were no vaccines,” Burgess said. “We should trust them to make their own healthcare decisions.”

Another bill related to taking steps to ditch the federal OSHA agency and create a state-run OSHA in Florida also passed Tuesday in the Senate Appropriations on a 12-7 vote. Two other bills passed on Tuesday as well, which means four pieces of legislation will be moving to the full Senate for consideration.

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Issac Morgan
Issac Morgan

Issac Morgan is a 2009 graduate of Florida A&M University's School of Journalism, and a proud native of Tallahassee. He has covered city council and community events at the Gadsden County Times, worked as a sports news assistant at the Tallahassee Democrat, a communications specialist for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and as a proofreader at the Florida Law Weekly.