3,300 officers respond to COVID vaccine poll: 38% say ‘Yes’ to vaccination
Police1 asked LEOs to weigh in on COVID-19 vaccination mandates, ethical obligations and whether they will be vaccinated
Charts showing the results of each question are available for download at the end of the article.
To better understand law enforcement officers’ willingness to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, agency vaccination mandates and practices, and how these might impact COVID-19 vaccination among front-line personnel, Police1 surveyed officers, administrators, leaders and trainers. More than 3,300 responses provide insights into law enforcement vaccination policies, practices and perceptions.
Vaccine survey methodology
Police1 developed a 13-question survey, open from Dec. 14, 2020, to Dec. 21, 2020. A total of 3,328 responses were collected using a Microsoft Form. Respondents’ current assignments included:
COVID-19 vaccination demand
While the COVID-19 vaccine is now available, ramping up production and distribution channels, and determining who is a priority for receiving the vaccine is a huge task and logistical nightmare.
According to the survey results, 38% of respondents report they will get the vaccine. Another 13% will only be vaccinated if mandated by their employer. Equally, 38% said they will not be vaccinated for COVID-19, and another 11% are unsure.
Of those respondents who do NOT plan to be vaccinated, the majority (73%) said they would not reconsider their decision even if it impacted their medical benefits and sick time, 6% said they would reconsider their decision and 21% were not sure.
Comparatively, in a Pew Research Center study conducted in November, 60% of U.S. adults said they would definitely or probably get a vaccine to prevent COVID-19 once available, up from 50% in September. About 39% said they definitely or probably would not get a coronavirus vaccine, though about half of this group indicated they might change their mind if they had more information. The Pew study found 21% of U.S. adults do not intend to get vaccinated.
Tampa Bay, Florida police and fire departments also conducted surveys of their personnel about their willingness to get vaccinated. Those surveys reported, “About 60% of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office employees who took the survey said they don’t want to get the vaccine. The Clearwater police survey showed 39% said no, 28% were undecided, and 32% said they would take the vaccine.
In the Police1 survey, police leadership and administrators were most likely to get a COVID-19 vaccine, at a rate of 49%, versus 33% in officers assigned to patrol, investigations and training.
Just 8% of respondents noted they don’t have any concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine.
Respondents ranked among their concerns primarily potential side effects (58%), followed by the speed of the approval process (11%), efficacy (5%) and availability (8%). Cost was a negligible concern, while 9% noted additional concerns not listed in the survey.
Following reports of some people experiencing anaphylaxis after getting a COVID-19 vaccine, the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology published guidance on the risk of allergic reactions to the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines. The guidance notes that allergic reactions to vaccines are rare, with the risk of anaphylaxis estimated at 1.31 in 1 million doses given.
When asked where they would prefer to be vaccinated, 29% indicated at work or at their physician’s office (33%) over at a pharmacy (3%), clinic (7%), or drive-through location (5%). The majority of respondents (76%) believe their employer should provide COVID-19 vaccines to frontline providers.
Vaccination as a condition of employment for officers
As for workplace mandates, 72% of respondents do not believe COVID-19 vaccination should be a condition of employment (with 51% of those feeling strongly). Just 14% believe COVID-19 vaccination should be a condition of employment for LEOs (with 6% feeling strongly).
Officers currently assigned to patrol, investigations and training believed COVID-19 vaccination should not be a condition of employment at the highest rate (75%), compared to police leaders and administrators (67%).
Eighty-eight percent of respondents indicated their agency does not have any current vaccination mandates. If an agency does have a mandate, 55% offer both religious and health exemptions, with 10% offering health exemptions, 5% offering religious exemptions and 8% offer no exemptions.
Ethical responsibility to be vaccinated
When it comes to ethics, amongst survey respondents, police leaders and administrators were most likely to agree that officers have an ethical obligation to get a COVID-19 vaccine (25% agree, while officers currently assigned to patrol, investigations and training were less likely to support an ethical obligation (19% agree).
Overall, 21% believe law enforcement officers have an ethical obligation to get a COVID-19 vaccination (9% strongly agree), while 66% do not feel they have an ethical obligation to get a COVID-19 vaccine (46% strongly disagree there is an ethical obligation).
Discussion: COVID-19 impact on law enforcement
Since mid-January, COVID-19 has significantly impacted law enforcement operations in the United States. An untold number of law enforcement personnel have been exposed to the coronavirus, hundreds or possibly thousands have missed work because of COVID-19 related-illness or quarantine, and more than 170 officers have died of COVID-19 infection.
At the same time, law enforcement agencies have been placed in the difficult position of enforcing public health orders related to controlling the spread of COVID-19, including patrolling bars and restaurants to ensure business owners patrons are abiding by COVID restrictions, enforce restrictions on mass gatherings, and issuing fines to the public when failing to wear masks or abide by social distancing rules.
In addition, many police departments closed the public areas of their stations and had personnel work at home requiring investigations to be conducted remotely.
The findings of this survey, including the questions, comments and concerns submitted with the survey point to the ongoing challenge and burden that the pandemic will place on law enforcement. Survey respondents significantly lag the general population’s willingness to receive the vaccination. Lack of vaccination, inability to socially distance because of job demands, variable mask use and close contact with high-risk populations put police officers at high-risk for COVID-19 infection. Police leaders and public health officials should use the results of this survey to develop police-specific vaccine education and messaging.
“PERF recently surveyed our members on COVID-19 vaccinations, and our findings were similar in many ways," said PERF Executive Director Chuck Wexler. "Many people are enthusiastic about getting vaccinated, while others are more skeptical. At the end of the day, protecting police personnel from the coronavirus is an officer safety issue. I would hope that the arrival of vaccines would provide an opportunity for police labor and management to come together and find common ground for the safety of everyone.”
In their own words
Respondents submitted nearly 700 questions, comments and concerns in a free text section at the end of the survey. Police1 will address the most frequently asked questions in a follow-up article. For now, here is a selection of reader comments about the COVID-19 vaccine:
“As a member of society, we all have an obligation to our fellow man to do what is necessary to protect all.”
“As a military service member, I was mandated to take vaccines as required. I never had an issue with taking them. I felt the approval process was vetted over time with little or no consequences. In the COVID case, I think the vaccine has been accelerated in response to people not taking necessary mitigations to reduce the level of the pandemic because they are seeking a short-term solution to a long-term problem. Since the pandemic has started, I'm sure I have been exposed to the virus just because of my contact with the public. I feel I have taken a responsible effort to mitigate my chances thus far. I would have no problem taking the vaccine once it has been proven effective and more research has concluded it is an effective way to prevent exposure.”
“At the start of COVID, every officer was sent out with minimal protective gear and told they are essential workers. A huge number of us must have the antibodies already and we survived. Now they want us to take another risk with this untried vaccination. Give mine to the city employees that are getting paid for vacation they could not use because they are working from home.”
“COVID has not been proven to be any more or less fatal than other strains of seasonal flu. Its primary purpose of facilitating the theft of a presidential election has been achieved. Having had and survived a case of COVID, I do not support any vaccine mandates by employers or governments nor do I support police officers being expected to enforce unconstitutional mandates by overreaching government officials. To be vaccinated is an issue of choice. I support the freedom to choose.”
“I am concerned that due to the climate regarding law enforcement, how law enforcement is being overlooked as first responders. So, my fear is it'll take a while before we're allowed to get it.”
“Desire does not change science. It has been processed too quickly. They are currently basing results on a small sample population without significant data regarding long-term effects and potential side effects. It is essentially making the whole population the testing population.”
“I am concerned with potential long term side effects of the vaccine, but even more concerned with rising infection rates within my department. Right now, I'm working from home and will not return to the station until I can get vaccinated. No one is wearing a mask at work and we are getting somewhere around 50 new cases per day. It's crazy!”
“I am not in favor of a vaccination mandate. However, employees should be notified of whether someone has had the vaccine or not, as well as whether someone has tested positive for the virus. At my department, we are not advised whether someone has tested positive, and this has led to people contracting the virus and continuing to come to work.”
“I believe that vaccination should be optional. Most of us (LE), have worked through the pandemic, with normal schedules. I think it should be a preference not mandatory, same as with the hepatitis B vaccinations. I have seen several cases at our agency, but quarantines were initiated, state and local protocols were employed and put into place. These reactions to exposure seem to be effective.”
“I don’t believe taking the vaccine should be mandatory, but those who refused if offered by an employer should be required to use accumulated sick time if they get sick, as opposed to line of duty injury time, worker’s compensation, or CARES act reimbursed time.”
Where do you stand?
Do you feel ethically obligated to get a COVID-19 vaccine now it is available? Will you be vaccinated? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us why or why not. We may use your responses in a future article or follow-up with you to ask additional questions.
Fill out the form below to download a PDF of the charts from the Police1 survey on law enforcement COVID-19 vaccine mandates and behavior.