Despite having been among the first people in California eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations, members of the Los Angeles Police Department and city firefighters have fallen far below the vaccination rate for average Californians, raising concerns among some community and law enforcement leaders that they could be a threat to public safety.
According to a new agency survey by the Los Angeles Times, only 52 percent of LAPD officers and 51 percent of L.A. firefighters have been at least partially vaccinated, while 72 percent of adult Californians and 64 percent of Angelenos 16 and older have gotten at least one shot. Additionally, just 30 percent of L.A. County Sheriff’s Department employees have been vaccinated, although the Times notes that it could only account for LASD staffers vaccinated through employee clinics, while some could have gotten the shots elsewhere.
Unvaccinated first responders cite the same reasons as the majority of other people who have declined the shots: a belief that having had COVID makes one immune from contracting it again, or, for some, debunked conspiracy theories that the vaccines don’t work or even cause harm.
While experts and ethicists who spoke to the paper say public safety workers should have the right to make their own healthcare decisions, those choices could also be in conflict with the welfare of the people they serve and protect, with some officials seeing mandatory vaccinations as a possibility if vaccination rates continue to flat-line.
Miami Police Chief and Major Cities Chiefs Association President, Art Acevedo, tells the Times, “As first responders, that’s a significant public health issue. It isn’t only a matter of their health, but others they come into contact with daily. This is becoming a big discussion among the chiefs and health leaders.”
The number of LAPD and LAFD employees who’ve contracted the coronavirus is not insignificant. Since the start of the pandemic, more than 2,700 LAPD personnel have been infected, and nine have died. Almost 1,000 L.A. city firefighters have tested positive, and two have died.
Councilman Paul Koretz tells the Times that L.A. needs to “get our firefighters and police to take this more seriously” and that corrective measures could be in order if progress isn’t made soon.
“It’s possible we can mandate it,” Koretz said. “It’s possible we could not allow people to do overtime shifts if they’re not vaccinated.”
Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph M. Terrazas tells the Times that mandatory vaccinations won’t be on the table until the vaccines—which are currently being used under emergency authorization—get the full approval of the F.D.A. LAPD spokesman, Capt. Stacy Spell, also said that any discussion before full approval is “premature.”
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