It’s Time To Vaccinate The Police

February 24, 2021

Let me come out and say it right off the bat:  I am in favor of the COVID-19 vaccines.  I realize it is a hot issue made even hotter by the fact that COVID-19 was politicized right from the get-go. 

To be fair, however, so was the 1918 Spanish Flu.  Not to give a history lesson here, but President Wilson wanted the entire thing to go away. There was a world war to fight.  In fact, during the height of that pandemic, (and sadly only two months before the war ended in November 1918) Philadelphia held a Liberty War Bonds Parade for the war effort.  As you may expect, it did not go well.  Influenza and subsequent death rates flew off the chart.

But let’s return to here and now.  Vaccines have rolled out.  Currently I serve as the Committee Chairperson of Miami-Dade County Chiefs of Police Association COVID-19 Committee. I am pushing (and pushing) for the vaccine to be made available to cops who want it.  Currently, it is not.  Let me explain.

Right now, there is about a 25-30% vaccine hesitancy meaning in theory if there is a 1000-person department, maybe (and I stress maybe) 250-300 will take the vaccine if made available. That number rose from a month ago and I assume it will be even higher come April or May.

Under CDC guidelines, in Phase “1a” health care personnel and long-term care facility residents are the highest priority for COVID-19 vaccinations. Absolutely correct here. Phase “1c” showed those 65-74 years of age as well as those 16-64 with underlying medical conditions.  This appears to already be in motion in Florida. 

There is a reason why “1b” was skipped.  It prioritized frontline essential workers such as firefighters, police, correction personnel, and people 75 years of age or older. Police were skipped thus far in this phase.  I disagree with that and I’m speaking out.

I further disagree with this because Alabama, who shows their cops under 1b, are getting the vaccine.  Nevada and New Hampshire placed their police in Priority 1a.  So, my question is, how can police officers be so important (rightfully so) in these two states and go to the top of the list, yet those in Florida and other states haven’t even gotten the opportunity to get vaccinated?

Let me cut to the chase:  Law enforcement does not respond from centralized locations nor have the luxury to suit up fully.  Rather, they dispatch from the field, often so close to the area of the incident (if dispatched in zones), that arrival time is of the utmost concern.  Thus, they arrive on scene with a mask, maybe two, on and little else in short time.  If someone refuses to go to jail and hands on are required, you can almost rest assured the offender has no mask on and the officer(s) is soon going to lose his. 

All one must do is look at the Capitol Police Officers who were on scene at the January 6th insurrection.  Now, close to forty of them must contend with COVID-19. For a small department, far smaller than Capitol Police, the results of COVID making its way through the agency can be devastating to the overall mission of protecting and serving.

The CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices acknowledges that supply issues can cause a re-calculating of where the vaccines are to roll out, but in the Sub-Prioritization of Frontline and other Essential Workers section, Sub-prioritization among groups of essential workers may differ by jurisdiction, given the potential variability in the composition of non-healthcare essential workers required to ensure continuity of functions that are critical to public health and safety, security, and the economy at jurisdictional and national levels.

The watchwords here are “safety” and “security.” Sub-prioritization decision-making needs to take this into consideration.  Police fit this bill. While there may currently be supply issues, that does not negate the fact that police need to be factored into the vaccination rollout.  Whether police want to take the vaccine or not is irrelevant.  There are plenty that want the vaccine. 

Police have no choice from a safety standpoint to worry about COVID infection when an ongoing “in your face” emergency dictates immediate action no more than an officer who chooses not to wear body armor can give it a second thought if he/she walks into an armed robbery in progress. The officer needs to take care of business, then reassess the safety measures that may not have been taken.   

Nationwide, there should probably be greater concern and outrage by law enforcement in the locations where they cannot get the vaccine.  I am not looking for people to stick their heads out of windows and bring out their greatest Howard Beale with, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore!” Nor do I want to hear chants of “Attica, Attica, Attica!”  What I crave is a commonsense approach that gives law enforcement the value they deserve in time of a pandemic as long as they are being sent into harm’s way, be that harm through violence or health risk. because that is not going to change anytime soon.

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