Law enforcement, inmates split on vaccine

With COVID-19 vaccines arriving in Clallam and Jefferson counties, the willingness of law enforcement personnel and city, county and state correctional facility inmates to get their shots remains a question mark.

It’s a little up in the air, considering the national mood toward the vaccines, its optional nature, and the views of some on the North Olympic Peninsula, police chiefs and sheriffs said last week.

Clallam County Chief Corrections Deputy Wendy Peterson reported last week that less than a third of 72 inmates said they would get vaccinated, which is not mandatory.

“Only 29 percent of the inmates wanted the vaccine,” she said.

“It’s a new disease, it’s a new vaccine, it was pushed through rather quickly, so I guess I could understand the apprehension from the inmates,” she continued.

“From the inmates, the most common reason we get is, ‘We don’t trust the vaccine.’ The other reason was, ‘I’m homeless, I don’t get sick.’”

Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke is projecting a 75 percent overall vaccination rate of all residents.

“It could be lower than that,” he said.

“This is a very unusual vaccine in the sense of its distribution among emergency use authorization and the new technology.”

In Forks, none of the three city jail corrections staff and three patrol officers has requested the vaccine, said Police Chief Mike Rowley, who won’t be getting the shots.

“I don’t get the flu vaccine, either,” he said Thursday. “I don’t care to put anything in my body I don’t need to.”

Rowley said his staff’s reasons varied from not knowing enough about the vaccine to religious beliefs based on the “rumor” that DNA from aborted fetuses was used to produce it.

The Colorado Sun recently reported that three Colorado bishops determined that Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were “morally acceptable” because they did not use fetal cell lines derived from an abortion in producing the vaccine (https://coloradosun.com/2020/ 12/16/covid-19-vaccine-aborted-fetal-cells/). But the clergy said the companies did rely on the cells during lab tests.

Forks-area Fire District 1 Chief Bill Paul text messaged his 35 firefighters Dec. 8 saying he needed the names of anyone who wanted to get vaccinated.

No one had responded as of Friday.

“When we do have the ability to get vaccinated, I’ll send another text out,” Paul said.

“I feel pretty confident we’ll get a handful of people going into town and getting them.

“There’s religious stuff, some people don’t believe in the vaccine, I don’t know what the reason is. I do know some don’t get the flu shot.”

Law enforcement officers get asked all the time if they will take the vaccine, said Port Angeles Police Chief Brian Smith, who will be getting the shots.

So will Paul, Port Angeles Fire Chief Ken Dubuc, Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict, Jefferson County Sheriff Joe Nole, Clallam County Chief Criminal Deputy Brian King, Sequim Police Chief Sheri Crain and Interim Port Townsend Police Chief Troy Surber, they said last week.

Peterson said she “probably” will get the shots but won’t urge jail staff to do the same.

“That’s their decision, and I’m not gong to push it one way or the other,” she said.

A Pew Research Center study published Dec. 3 showed a nationwide split of 60 percent of respondents who said they will take the vaccine and 39 who said they won’t (pewstudy).

North Olympic Peninsula corrections and law enforcement officers have not been polled.

King said he believes the 60-40 split is a “fairly accurate” number for assessing the intentions — so far — of Sheriff’s Office staff.

He and other public safety officials predicted deputies and the public likely will become more comfortable with taking the vaccine as the rollout proceeds.

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine has preceded arrival of the Moderna vaccine, which the Food nd Drug Administration approved Friday for emergency use.

The Pfizer vaccine is a two-dose regimen administered 21 days apart. It becomes effective seven days after the second dose and is 95 percent effective two weeks after the second dose, according to the state Department of Health.

The Moderna vaccine also requires two doses and is considered 94 percent effective with less stringent storage requirements. The shots are administered 28 days apart.

Side effects are temporary and can include a sore arm, tiredness, headache and muscle pain, according to the state Department of Health.

The FDA and Centers for Disease Control are investigating three reported severe reactions to the Pfizer vaccine among health care workers in the United Kingdom and Alaska.

Front-line hospital workers are the first to receive doses, followed by inmates and staff at area jails and state corrections centers at Clallam Bay and Jefferson County, said Dr. Allison Unthank, Clallam County health officer.

“The exact date will depend on when we get our next shipment of vaccine,” she said Thursday.

“For the [Clallam County] jail, that could be as early as next week.

The Forks jail likely will get a vaccine one to two weeks later because the city jail, unlike the county jail, does not have an active case of the coronavirus, Unthank said.

“For Clallam Bay, we need to wait for the Moderna vaccine due to shipping and handling limitations of the Pfizer vaccine,” she said.

Susan Biller, the state Department of Corrections’ spokeswoman, said Thursday in an email that distribution plans were not then available.

She said the agency sent memos on the vaccinations Wednesday to all staff, incarcerated individuals and interested parties.

A DOC survey team has visited several facilities, “talking with incarcerated individuals about their current state of readiness to accept a vaccine,” she said, adding DOC staff will be similarly surveyed.

“The feedback will help inform the department’s health services as to the best approach and relieve concerns about receiving the vaccine, before the department’s supply arrives.”

Nole said Thursday he planned to be vaccinated this weekend.

He said many of those who are against getting the shots may be doing so for political reasons, comparing it to the debate over wearing masks.

“I think it’s important as citizens that we get it and get this thing over with,” Nole said.

“I’m sure some people disagree.”

Smith said the vaccine is another safety precaution among the many he and his staff take as part of doing their jobs.

“The vaccine is much lower risk than getting the disease,” he said Friday.

“Our jobs are dangerous enough.”

Crain said Friday she has not heard any negative feedback from officers about getting vaccinated.

“We all need to make sure we are educated and encouraged to do everything we can to fight the virus, and that includes [taking] the vaccine,” she said.

Benedict will talk to his deputies and jail staff about the vaccine.

“Basically, it’s on me,” to discuss it with them, he said.

“As a libertarian, I do believe you own your own body and you should make the decision, particularly if you are over 18.

“COVID is somewhat unique.

“I try to convince people it’s the right thing to do.”

Benedict said with the vaccine available, those who don’t take it live with the consequences if they infect someone else.

Surber said Friday he is getting vaccinated Monday, and his staff can get the shots this week.

He said officers will continue wearing protective masks and following health protocols whether or not they get vaccinated.

Dubuc said Saturday based on his staff’s history of taking flu vaccines, he expects all his first responders will get the shots.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at pgottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

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