Many Police Officers Refuse Vaccinations

Monday, May 3, 2021 - 8:57am

Police officers were among the first front-line workers to gain access to coronavirus vaccines, but their vaccination rates are lower than or about the same as those of the general public, reports the Washington Post. Experts say the police reluctance to get the shots threatens not just their own health, but also the safety of people they’re responsible for guarding, monitoring and patrolling. In Las Vegas, just 39 percent of police employees have gotten at least one dose, compared with more than 50 percent of eligible adults nationwide. In Atlanta, 36 percent of sworn officers have been vaccinated. And a mere 28 percent of those employed by the Columbus Division of Police — Ohio’s largest police department — report having received a shot. “I think it’s unacceptable,” Joe Lombardo, the head of Las Vegas police and sheriff of Clark County. 

The numbers paint a troubling picture of policing and public health. Because officers have high rates of diabetes, heart disease and other conditions, their hesitancy puts them at greater risk of serious illness from the coronavirus while also undermining force readiness. Police officers were more likely to die of OVID-19 last year than of all other causes combined, says the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

Police hesitancy means officers may be vectors of spread to vulnerable people with whom they interact during traffic stops, calls for service and other encounters. That could thwart efforts to restore community trust in a moment of heightened scrutiny after last month’s conviction of ex-officer Derek Chauvin for killing George Floyd.

“Police touch people,” said Sharona Hoffman, a professor of law and bioethics at Case Western Reserve University. “Imagine having a child in the car who’s not vaccinated. People would want to know if a police officer coming to their window is protected.”

One solution is for departments to make vaccination compulsory, according to experts in bioethics and public health, just as some health-care settings and institutions of higher education have begun doing.

Police leaders and union officials said in interviews that such requirements could backfire or lead to lengthy litigation. Of more than 40 major metropolitan police departments contacted by the Post, none had made vaccinations compulsory for employees.

That reflects a belief among officers — and their unions — that getting a shot is a private decision. “I hate to sound like I don’t care, but I really don’t,” said Vince Champion, the Atlanta-based southeast regional director of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers. “It’s a personal decision. We fight [the virus] every day. We’re out among every disease in the world.”

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