Why do public safety officers refuse to protect the public by getting vaccinated against COVID?

I researched the definition of public safety, perhaps figuring my long-held understanding of what it meant was wrong, or that I had missed a nuance. But no, my quick search confirmed that my primary meaning of the word matched the lawyers definition: public safety is defined as “Protection of the general public”.

Chief among the protectors of public safety in most towns and villages? Well, the public security officers, of course. Police, firefighters, state soldiers and other essential workers. So why do public safety officers who have sworn to uphold their mission to protect the public refuse to protect?

The last time I checked, the United States – and the world – is still struggling to tackle one of the greatest public safety threats of all time. Deaths due to the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States exceed 750,000. And while 191 million Americans, 59%, are fully immunized, that leaves 41% who are not. And too many unvaccinated people are public safety officers who now pose a danger to public health, becoming potential agents of the spread of the infection.

I couldn’t believe it when I first heard that the professionals in these positions refused to be vaccinated. Like so many others who have ignored calls from healthcare experts, friends and family, they claim “the right to make a choice about what I put in my body.” Maybe it would be nice if it wasn’t a public health crisis, if they planned to self-isolate and stay out of public spaces, and if they didn’t have a jobs that often involve close contact with other people. But their individual choice threatens the health and safety of the rest of us. Given this, city and state immunization mandates for public employees could not come quickly enough.

In August, Acting Mayor Kim Janey commissioned vaccines for City of Boston employees to ensure the city’s 18,000 employees get vaccinated. Thousands, 812 were suspended without pay because they did not meet the September and October deadlines. Last Monday, the deadline for state employees, Governor Charlie Baker announced that 94% of state employees are vaccinated. Corn a small number – 362 workers – were suspended and 151 were made redundant or resigned. Still in question? The 2,138 who are waiting to see if their requests for religious or medical exemptions are approved.

But in the end, most of the 42,000 employees and contractors, including soldiers and government officials, are vaccinated. This is after the failure of legal challenges and the state’s union of soldiers’ predictions about mass resignations. So far, this has not happened. On GBH’s Boston Public Radio talk show, Governor Baker said he did not understand hindsight given the extraordinarily high rate of law enforcement officers who died from COVID-19, adding that he thought it was not “unreasonable” for them to want to obtain “a safe and effective vaccine”. And it’s not unreasonable for the rest of us sharing the common space with these employees to want to be sure of their immunization status.

I am upset that some of the public safety workers who have quit or been fired are apparently looking for similar jobs in places where vaccinations are not mandatory. I fail to understand their apparent inability to understand that it is not just about them. Or that it’s not fair to the people who will interact with them without knowing it. And that does not solve the problem.

Two years since the start of this pandemic and there are still thousands of mostly unvaccinated deaths from COVID every day. Why can’t we all do our part so that we can all to be more secure? Is that really too much to ask?

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Susan W. Lloyd