From Chicago, to Mobile, Alabama, to Dallas-Fort Worth and up to San Jose, California, police agencies admit the COVID-19 vaccination rates among the rank and file have been unexpectedly low, at least early in the year. According to multiple news outlets, vaccination rates among cops by mid-February registered less than 50% for numerous cities and counties. Mobile, Alabama, counted less than 25% of the city’s police force received the first dose. Smaller cities throughout the state tracked at similarly low rates, wrote AL.com in February. Tuscaloosa was an outlier with half of the city’s first responders receiving the first shot of either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines.
Law enforcement professionals in Texas also appear somewhat hesitant. NBC 5 News revealed in February that at least four cities in the Dallas-Fort Worth region confirmed that less than half of the police forces had lined up for shots. The city of Allen told the news station that approximately 75% of its personnel were not vaccinated yet. However, Dallas Police Department stated approximately 60% of its employees obtained the first dose.
Vaccination rates among cops by mid-February registered less than 50% for numerous cities and counties.
What’s more, too many officers have stated they do not plan on getting inoculated at all. For example, an informal survey by the Chicago Police Department in late January recorded that less than 40% of personnel wanted the vaccine, according to local NPR station WBEZ.
These lackluster responses have some public health experts concerned, especially given the elevated risk of officers contracting the highly transmissible novel coronavirus and its variants. Direct contact with the public, and oftentimes with vulnerable populations, may not always accommodate social distancing and other prescribed precautions, which increases the probability of infection. The National Fraternal Order of Police recorded more than 400 COVID-19 deaths among law enforcement professionals last year, WBEZ reported.
“Let’s face it, they are our heroes, and to see them at risk like this, unnecessarily, really disturbs me,” Peter Hotez, M.D., Ph.D., an infectious disease specialist and researcher with Baylor College of Medicine, commented to NBC 5.
“The mission of the police is to protect and serve, so what better way to protect the community than to get a vaccine,” noted Peter Chin-Hong, M.D., an infectious disease expert with the University of California, San Francisco to The Mercury News.
Many police department administrators deduced that the rollout was slow because officers who had contracted COVID were probably still within the Centers for Disease Control’s recommended 90-day waiting period, so they simply postponed vaccine appointments. There were also considerations to scheduling conflicts as well as individuals adopting a wait-and-see attitude regarding potential negative reactions to the vaccine in others. Some administrators also blame misinformation about the vaccine’s safety and the virus in general.
“Since the first group of us got the shot and had no major side effects, and as the information base has broadened about how people are reacting to the shot, I think we will continue to see a rise in participation,” Opelika Police Chief Shane Healey told AL.com.
Now that vaccine distribution is in its fourth month and includes a third, one-shot option from Johnson & Johnson, public health officials expect rates to climb among police and other first responders. In fact, some officials in the aforementioned cities suspect vaccination among officers is higher than cataloged because agencies do not always require individuals to share their health information. The San Jose Police Department logged a nearly 60% inoculation rate by mid-February, but leaders hope it could be much higher because employees choose whether or not to alert the department about their vaccination status, and can seek vaccines from primary health-care providers instead of city or county sites.
Paul Kelly, president of San Jose Police Officers’ Association, said in a statement to The Mercury News that he believed officers are being vaccinated “on pace with other first responders and it is our hope that the supply of vaccines will keep pace with those awaiting their shot.”