Though they’re among the first to be able to access the COVID-19 vaccine, Maryland law enforcement officers are slow in signing up.
Only 25 to 33 percent of members of local sheriff’s offices have volunteered to be vaccinated, Erik Robey, a liaison for the Harford County Sheriff’s Office, told members of the Senate Judicial Proceedings committee. He was speaking on behalf of the Maryland Sheriff’s Association.
“From what I’m hearing, a lot of people are taking a wait-and-see attitude,” Robey told The Sun. “It’s something new — people may have a friend in the medical field who got it a few weeks ago, and they want to see if there’s any side effects.”
Baltimore Police spokeswoman Lindsey Eldridge told The Sun that the department had received 1,066 requests from sworn and civilian employees to receive vaccinations. That’s out of about 2,930 total employees.
Calvert County Major Thomas Reece, speaking on behalf of the Maryland Correctional Administrators Association, told the legislative panel that fewer than half of his member agencies’ staff had signed up, with a similar proportion of inmates signing up.
Maryland Fraternal Order of Police President Clyde Boatwright, a Baltimore schools police officer, expressed surprise at those figures. He said in an interview that he’s heard widespread interest in the vaccine and members wanting to know when it would become available.
“Our officers are chomping at the bit waiting for our turn to get the vaccine,” Boatwright said of the city schools force.
Boatwright said he is eager to receive it himself: “I can’t wait. If I can get it yesterday, I would’ve been there.”
Maryland law enforcement officers, correctional officers and frontline judiciary staff are part of the state’s “Phase 1A population,” which also includes licensed, registered and certified health care providers. More than 500,000 Marylanders are in the Phase 1A group.
Some nursing home workers also have been hesitant to get the vaccines, which were tested for safety and efficacy and approved in record time. About 85 percent of nursing home residents were willing to be vaccinated but only an average of 55 percent of staff were willing during the first of three clinics at each center, according to the Health Facilities Association of Maryland, which represents nursing homes.
The Maryland Hospital Association said it didn’t have figures on how many hospital workers have sought the vaccine.
A survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation last month found about 27 percent of the public is hesitant about the vaccine, a number that is higher among essential workers — 33 percent. Vaccine hesitancy is highest among Republicans (42%), those aged 30-49 (36%) and rural residents (35%).
Maryland State Police provided employees with information and a video regarding facts and myths surrounding the vaccine, and about 60 percent of them expressed interest in receiving the vaccine, said spokesman Greg Shipley. He said he believes that number has since risen, but did not have available data.
Robey said employee surveys at the Harford County Sheriff’s Office indicated about 50 percent participation, but so far people were slower to sign up.
State corrections secretary Robert Green told the Senate panel that his agency received its first round of vaccinations Wednesday, and was administering them first to those who will be dispensing it — “vaccinating the vaccinators,” he said. He said the department had received 1,950 doses and will have to administer 75 percent of them in order to receive more.
The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services did not have data on what percentage of its work force was signing up, but anecdotally reported high interest.
“We have had significant success with our vaccination clinics and have had very high interest among employees,” said spokesman Mark Vernarelli.
He said three clinics had opened since Saturday, with more than 750 employees vaccinated.
“Employees have been lined up at all three clinics thus far,” he said.
The state’s rollout has been slow. As of Friday, Maryland Department of Health data indicated 195,220 vaccinations have been administered, which represents 3.25% of the state’s population.
Phase 1B of the state’s vaccination rollout, which now starts Monday, gives vaccine access to residents over 75 years old, educators and child care staff, high risk inmates and others. Phase 1C, starting Jan. 25, includes people who work at grocery stores, public transit, agricultural production and manufacturing.
Sun reporter Meredith Cohn contributed to this article.