Chicago Police Are Eligible To Get The COVID-19 Vaccine, But Survey Shows Many May Not Want It

Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown
In this July 27, 2020, file photo, Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown wears a face mask at a news conference. Brown, who was vaccinated in late January, has encouraged other department employees to do the same, but less than 40% have indicated that they want the COVID-19 vaccine. Teresa Crawford / Associated Press
Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown
In this July 27, 2020, file photo, Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown wears a face mask at a news conference. Brown, who was vaccinated in late January, has encouraged other department employees to do the same, but less than 40% have indicated that they want the COVID-19 vaccine. Teresa Crawford / Associated Press

Chicago Police Are Eligible To Get The COVID-19 Vaccine, But Survey Shows Many May Not Want It

Less than 40% of Chicago Police Department employees responded “yes” to a department survey asking if they “wish[ed] to receive the vaccine” against COVID-19, according to records obtained by WBEZ. However, department officials say they believe vaccine uptake will ultimately be higher than that.

On Jan. 9, a department-wide email went out announcing that a “safe and highly effective vaccine” would soon be available to CPD employees.

“Help save lives and protect your families and co-workers against this virus by saying ‘yes’ to the vaccine,” read the email from police Superintendent David Brown. The email asked employees to log into the department’s “E-Learning” site and respond to the survey, if they were interested in getting vaccinated.

As of Jan. 22, according to figures provided by the department, 4,937 employees had done as Brown asked — that’s 38% of the department’s 13,146 employees.

Michele Morris, the department’s risk manager, said she does not believe those survey results reflect the total number of employees who will end up getting vaccinated, but acknowledged the department does not have any other metric to gauge overall interest.

Morris said the department started surveying members when they believed there would be limited supply of the vaccine and it was necessary to figure out just how many doses CPD really needed. But she said within a couple weeks doses increased.

“We didn’t have that limitation anymore, so internally, we actually stopped focusing on the survey because we knew we could offer the vaccine to all members,” Morris said.

Morris said in the first week of vaccinations at CPD locations, all available slots were filled up. Additionally, at the end of January, the Chicago Department of Public Health opened up 2,500 vaccine slots for CPD employees and “the majority” of those slots were filled by officers.

Morris said those early returns indicate vaccinations are “trending higher” within CPD than the 38% level in the survey results. Morris also said an untold number of officers would end up being vaccinated at area hospitals or other medical providers.

Chicago began administering the COVID-19 vaccine to officers and other CPD employees at the end of January. Around that time, Brown got the vaccine himself from Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady on video, and then sat down for a “Real Talk” session with Arwady to encourage officers to get vaccinated.

CPD started hosting vaccinations on Feb. 1, and so far 2,124 department members have gotten a vaccine shot at CPD locations, according to spokesman Luis Agostini.

Morris said they’ve been repeatedly emailing officers and other employees about the benefits of the vaccine, and have collaborated with the labor unions to promote the vaccine among the officers they represent.

“It is imperative to the CPD that we get as many of our members vaccinated as possible, and that will be our sworn officers who are out there on the streets every day, the civilian members that they come in contact with down to the folks working at every district,” Morris said. It’s important to us. It’s important for the community. And we are doing all that we can to press this message internally to ensure that all of our members receive the vaccine.”

Chicago Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara did not respond to questions for this story, but the union’s January newsletter featured commentary heralding the arrival of the vaccine, especially after the virus had killed four Chicago officers and sickened hundreds more. That same article said the FOP would bargain over any attempt to make the vaccine mandatory for Chicago cops.

Right now, employers cannot require workers to get vaccinated because the vaccine is authorized for emergency use only.

Morris said she “cannot imagine a set of circumstances” in which the department would make vaccination mandatory even when the vaccines are fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Vaccine reluctance among law enforcement officers has been an issue across the country.

In a survey of law enforcement officers conducted by Police1, a website for law enforcement professionals, just 38% of respondents said they would voluntarily take a vaccine. That’s significantly lower than the general public, based on a December study by the Pew Research Center, and lines up almost exactly with the internal CPD survey.

When Cook County started offering the vaccine to jail guards last month, only about 40% signed up to get the shot.

According to the National Fraternal Order of Police, more than 400 officers have died due to COVID-19 nationwide. Twelve of those deaths have been in Illinois.

Patrick Smith is a reporter on WBEZ’s Criminal Justice Desk. Follow him @pksmid. Email him at psmith@wbez.org.