STUART, Fla. — Law enforcement officers are considered to be some of the most at-risk to be exposed to COVID-19, but records show law enforcement officers and staff in our area are not rushing to get the vaccine.
The Florida Sheriff's Association asked law enforcement agencies to survey their employees to see how many would be interested in receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, gauging how many doses they should prepare to provide.
Currently, only law enforcement officers who are older than 65 are eligible for the vaccine. Survey results show many do not want the vaccine or want to wait at least six months to a year.
"I was not surprised that a high number of my first responders would not be interested," said Martin County Sheriff William Snyder. "The primary reason they're not lining up to take it is they're young. They're young risk-takers. They're young cops that are not afraid of things."
Indian River County Sheriff Eric Flowers also reacted to the results.
"A lot of law enforcement, a lot of folks who have been out there on the front lines since March, have already had it," said Flowers. "So, there are folks who say, 'I'm not getting the vaccine because I've already had COVID and have the antibodies.'"
Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw said he has also worked to gauge why so many of his employees are not eager to get the vaccine.
"When we found out some of the reasons, it was obviously not based on science," said Bradshaw. "It was what they picked up off the internet, what somebody told them."
Here's the county-by-county breakdown:
Palm Beach County:
1,263 or 35.86% will get the vaccine when it is offered.
1,033 or 29.33% will not get the vaccine when it is offered.
1,226 or 34.81% are unsure if they will get the vaccine when it is offered.
363 sworn law enforcement, sworn corrections and civilian employees were surveyed and asked "If the agency were able to offer vaccinations for COVID-19 at no cost, would you be interested in taking it?"
Yes: 34.71% or 126
No: 65.29% or 237
St. Lucie County:
Only about half of employees responded to the survey asking "If a COVID-19 vaccine were available to you as an employee of the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office, would you take it?"
Of those who responded:
Immediately: 89 or 24.72%
After 6 months of availability: 34 or 9.44%
After 12 months of availability: 74 or 20.56%
Never: 163 or 45.28%
Indian River County:
Records show the approximate number of sworn personnel and dispatchers who would be interested in the vaccine is 75 out of 482 employees surveyed.
Bradshaw, Flowers, Snyder and St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara said they will all support whatever decision their employees make, knowing it is a personal decision.
Mascara told WPTV the consensus he is hearing is that people want to wait for the first round to be complete to see how it goes before making their final decisions. Mascara, who recovered from COVID-19, said his doctor tells him he has antibodies so he may not need the vaccine, but will wait and see.
Snyder will wait to get the vaccine, but not because he is against it.
"I personally will wait until everybody in Martin County who needs a vaccine has one, and if I'm the last one standing, I'll take it," said Snyder. "I'm going to encourage my deputies for their own protection but also a symbol to the community."
Bradshaw and Flowers are taking a different approach. Flowers is not yet eligible for the vaccine but said he will get it once it is available to law enforcement.
"I'll set the example for our folks and hopefully they'll follow my lead," said Flowers.
Bradshaw has received the vaccine and said it was no worse than a flu shot, with mild soreness in his arm. He recorded a video when he received the vaccine which he shared internally to encourage his employees to consider it.
"I need to get the people on the road and the people in the jail that work there, I need to get them vaccinated for their own safety," said Bradshaw. "We've had three people die of this."
Florida Police Benevolent Association President John Kazanjian also hopes to reverse the lack of interest.
"I'm like, 'Come on guys. Charge. Let's go,' and they're not behind me," he said.
He wants to convince Gov. Ron DeSantis to allow law enforcement officers to get the vaccine at the same priority as firefighters. He was in Tallahassee on Monday with hopes of securing a meeting during his visit.
Kazanjian said he also expects there will be discussions in the future about whether officers who refuse the vaccine but test positive for COVID-19 will be eligible for worker's compensation.