Police officers considered 'priority group' but not included in Tier 1 COVID-19 vaccinations

A. Kevin Corvo
ThisWeek group

Vaccinations for the COVID-19 coronavirus are underway for people whom the Ohio Department of Health has included in Phase 1A and 1B of the vaccine rollouts.

But law-enforcement officers are not included in either phase, and the Franklin County Chiefs Association is asking Gov. Mike DeWine to “rethink” its position as well as provide clarity as to where law enforcement fits into the state’s vaccination protocols. 

“We are not trying to challenge (DeWine) but we are concerned," said Mike Crispen, president of the Franklin County Chiefs Association and chief of the Whitehall Division of Police. "We believe (DeWine) should follow the guidelines of the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and include police officers (in Phase 1)."

But although law enforcement is considered a “priority group,” officers will not be included until a subsequent phase, according to Dan Tierney, press secretary for DeWine.

Whitehall Division of Police officer Noah Fullerton speaks to the driver of a vehicle Dec. 11, 2019, on East Main Street in Whitehall. Police officers are not included in the first tier of those to receive COVID-19 vaccinations, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

According to the Ohio Department of Health, Phase 1A includes health-care workers routinely involved in the care of COVID-19 patients, residents and staff in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, patients and staff at psychiatric hospitals, residents and staff at the two state-operated homes for Ohio veterans, EMS responders and people with development disabilities and substance use disorders in congregate settings, as well as staff members at those locations.

Phase 1B includes adult employees in Ohio’s public school districts, Ohio residents with severe congenital, developmental and early onset medical disorders, those with myriad of underlying health threats and residents over the age of 65.

Hilliard City Schools Superintendent John Marschhausen and Dublin City Schools Superintendent Todd Hoadley each said vaccinations are expected to be available to educators and other employees in their respective districts in early February.

Mike Crispen, president of the Franklin County Chiefs Association and chief of the Whitehall Division of Police, has asked Gov. Mike DeWine to reconsider including police officers in the first tier of those to receive COVID-19 vaccinations.

Meanwhile, Crispen said, it is important for police officers to receive COVID-19 vaccinations as soon as possible so officers can resume “normal policing practices.”

Crispen said officers continue to avoid interaction with the public when possible, including traffic stops for minor infractions and contacts for other misdemeanor crimes.

But doing so has resulted in an increase in crime during the pandemic, Crispen said.

“At some point, we have to get back to (to our typical approach for) public safety," he said.

Crispen said the spread of COVID-19 within the ranks of law enforcement also extends to support staff members, including dispatchers, and that he was recently required to solicit a retired dispatcher to fill in for Whitehall.

“We understand the nature of the limited supply (of vaccines) and do not want to prevent someone who is vulnerable from getting a vaccination, (but) we believe there is room for (DeWine) to achieve his goal of prioritizing lifesaving vaccination protocols without sacrificing public safety,” said Crispen, who also suggested that vaccines could be made available to police officers when those in tiers 1A and 1B decline receiving them.

During the early stage of the pandemic in March and April 2020, some officers, including those in Whitehall, were sleeping in city buildings or at police stations or “anywhere they could to avoid the risk of taking the virus home to their families while still performing their sworn duty to the public,” Crispen said.

In a letter to DeWine on behalf of the Franklin County Chiefs Association, Crispen asked DeWine to “rethink his deviation from the national recommendations and adopt a model that both achieves his current priorities in Tier 1 and includes police.”

Tierney said the governor’s office understands the concern.

“(But) with the current very limited vaccine supply, the governor has said that our priorities are saving lives and getting children back to school," he said. "Of all of the coronavirus deaths in Ohio, more than 87% of fatalities have been of those ages 65 and older.

“And by vaccinating frontline health-care providers, we can better ensure that doctors, nurses, paramedics, etc. are available to provide lifesaving care for COVID and non-COVID patients. It’s also important that our educators receive the vaccine because the critical benefits of in-person learning for an entire generation of children are at stake.

“Law enforcement is certainly one of Ohio’s priority groups, and they will be included in an upcoming phase."

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo