In August of this year, Oregon’s Governor Brown announced that the state would mandate vaccinations for all executive branch employees including police and correctional officers as well as state employed health care workers. This announcement was shortly followed by another, stating that all healthcare workers, teachers, educators, support staff, and volunteers in K-12 schools will also be required to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
Brown stated that “the Delta variant has put enormous pressure on our health systems, and health care workers are being stretched to their absolute limits providing life-saving treatment for the patients in their care. I am devoting all available resources to help, and we must proactively implement solutions right now. We need every single frontline health care worker healthy and available to treat patients.”
With the Pfizer vaccine also gaining FDA approval in August of this year, many believe this to be a smart step in preventive public health care and combating widespread anti vaccine sentiments. Anti vaccine sentiment has been growing at an alarming rate and hindering overall public well being. With Oregon having recently breached 4,000 COVID related deaths so far, and new variants of the virus continuing to develop, Governor Brown’s intentions of preventative actions could help to halt the ongoing pandemic.
This mandate goes beyond Oregon with most States also requiring vaccinations for all federally employed workers. While there was some speculation in September as to whether police forces would be included in the vaccination mandate (originally being exempt from such mandates under State laws), this speculation has since been cut short.
Aimed to be in effect by October 18, these temporary mandates have been met with resistance. Photographs have been circling the web that display police brandishing right-wing “don’t tread on me” flags from their state issued vehicles. Police strikes have occurred all over the country with many refusing to work or going on strike. Many of these individuals are being removed from their jobs for their aversion to the vaccine and unwillingness to comply with federal mandates as is required by their employment.
In Washington, 127 people employed by Washington State Patrol were let go for their refusal to be vaccinated, including 74 commissioned officers. Things are worse in Chicago where around 2,000 police officers have refused vaccination and a lawsuit has been filed by the city against the Chicago Police Union. In response to this resistance shown by police in Chicago, the Indiana police force has offered safe haven for cops unwilling to be vaccinated. With Indiana already at a bewildering 16,000 COVID deaths, anti vaccination safe havens will only create further public health crises.
According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, a website that tracks death statistics of on duty police officers, more police have died from COVID this year than any other factor. The number currently sits at 240 compared to 50 gunfire related deaths.
As widespread criticism has recently been amplified in regards to American policing, this public display of subversion from policing agencies could further public resolve that systemic change needs to occur. It could also, as pointed out elsewhere, have the potential of defunding police institutions—a goal of abolitionists.
illustration by Alison White