Chicago police vaccination rate raises concerns about COVID vaccine hesitancy in the force

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Just over 25% of Chicago police officers have received their first dose of the COVID vaccine from a city-operated site, and while the actual numbers are likely higher that's still raising alarm from health officials.

Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown made a public event of receiving his vaccine from Chicago Health Commissioner Allison Arwady in February. The hope was that other members of the department would follow suit, but according to the latest CPD data only about a quarter of officers and CPD employees have gotten one dose at a city vaccination site.

"I think officers are no different than the general population, there is a skepticism. There are unanswered questions when it comes to the vaccine, it rolled out in record time," said Chicago Fraternal Order of Police president John Catanzara.

Catanzara said there is definitely hesitancy among the rank and file, and admitted he has not yet gotten vaccinated against COVID-19.

"No hurry," he said. "Some people say I'm too mean to get the virus."

But medical experts say hesitancy among first responders is no laughing matter.

"Police are out in the community, they are going to have intersections with others and it's not going to be clear if those individuals have been vaccinated or not, so it's really important they get vaccinated," said Dr. Susan Bleasdale, UIC infectious disease specialist.

However, department officials and Mayor Lori Lightfoot pointed out the total number of vaccinated CPD officers and employees is likely higher because many received the vaccine at other sites, like pharmacies or pop-up clinics.

"It's difficult, in that circumstance, to be able to know in totality who's gotten vaccinated, but obviously we want to maximize the number," Mayor Lightfoot said.

The FOP said its younger members don't trust the science, and publish reports said vaccine hesitancy is a problem among police departments across the country.

To overcome hesitance, medical experts suggest an education campaign that includes infectious disease doctors and testimonials from officers who have received their shots.

"Also, I thinks it's important to share experiences of those that have had COVID or lost someone to COVID too," Dr. Bleasdale said.

There have been more than 3,000 cases of COVID-19 in the Chicago Police Department since the beginning of the pandemic.
Copyright © 2021 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.