FOP, CMPD: Officers are on the front lines every day, where’s their vaccine?

CHARLOTTE — Nearly 1.4 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been given in North Carolina and more than 300,000 people have gotten both shots and are fully vaccinated.

But the police officers and sheriff’s deputies who protect our streets every day are not part of the first groups getting the vaccine.

Currently, healthcare workers, those working and living in nursing homes and those 65 and older can get vaccinated in North Carolina. Other frontline essential workers, like police officers, can’t get their shots until Group 3 is allowed, which is possibly still weeks away.

The local Fraternal Order of Police told Channel 9 veteran crime reporter Mark Becker that officers’ inability to immediately receive the vaccine downplays their importance in the community -- and their risk of getting COVID-19.

As it stands right now, police officers, including those at CMPD, are scheduled to get their vaccines with others in Group 3, including essential workers like grocery store employees, teachers and postal workers.

Other emergency workers, like firefighters and paramedics, have already been eligible for vaccines and the Fraternal Order of Police and some CMPD officers want to know why they have to wait.

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Police officers are on the front lines every day. Whether it was working the protests last summer or crime scenes every day, they are literally in the middle of it -- with no way to avoid close contact with many people.

“We’ve had officers that have been exposed to COVID for doing CPR on people,” said CMPD Capt. John Thomas.

As of Feb. 8, Thomas said more than 250 CMPD employees contract COVID-19 -- 80% of those being officers, including Chief Johnny Jennings. As far as Channel 9 knows, all of them have recovered but it has made it challenging to cover shifts when those employees have been out and quarantined.

And they can be exposed at any time.

“Even just this weekend, we had a suspect who was COVID positive purposely spitting on officers -- spitting in the cars while being transported to jail,” Thomas said.

And it’s more than just officers themselves asking why. A Channel 9 viewer whose daughter is married to an officer emailed our newsroom to say, “My son-in-law wears a mask at home because he doesn’t want to possibly infect his wife or children. I’m appalled that CMPD officers are called on to respond to dozens of calls daily, yet they have no idea when they will receive a COVID vaccination.”

With it possible that it may still be a few months before officers are eligible to get their vaccines, the Fraternal Order of Police is asking that the state move them up in line so they can get their shots sooner.

“We just don’t understand why this choice was made,” said Fraternal Order of Police spokeswoman Yolian Ortiz. “They (the state) have the power to make those changes and put officers back in the priority group, especially when you’re out there in the community group and interacting with the public.”

On Monday, a spokeswoman for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services responded in an email, saying, “Vaccine supplies are limited … we are aligning with CDC Advisory Committee on immunization practices in terms of priority order.”

She did not say that they are considering changing that order.