Police officers were among the first in the state to be offered the coronavirus vaccine, but approximately half of Newark’s officers declined to receive it when it was their turn, City Manager Tom Coleman said.
That statistic prompted a concern from the public during a community forum held by The Newark Partnership last week, but Coleman noted that the Newark Police Department’s vaccine rate is higher than surrounding departments.
“The number of officers that have chosen to get it has actually gone up as more people have gotten it and they were OK,” he said. “Initially, there was a lot of reservation around it, and then the first few people went and they came back and they lived, and more people got it.”
Officers started getting their shots Dec. 29, two weeks after the first vaccines arrived in Delaware. Since then, every officer who wanted one has received a first dose and, after an initial delay, most have received their second dose.
“That was a big relief,” Coleman said, adding that officers having to isolate or potentially exposing other officers can cause staffing issues.
Since the pandemic began, 13 of Newark’s 72 sworn officers have contracted COVID-19, he added.
Meanwhile, Newark is making arrangements to vaccinate its civilian essential workers when they are eligible, likely sometime in March. The city will receive vaccines from the state and has hired an outside medical firm to hold a vaccination clinic for employees.
The city chose not to mandate the vaccine but instead required all employees to complete a form either accepting or declining the vaccine. Acceptance among civilian employees is “well over 50 percent,” Coleman said.
“One thing that actually worked in our favor to get people to sign up was actually making people sign a form declining it, which I think persuaded a lot of people into getting it,” he said. “I was anticipating more no’s, and I think they were hoping that they could just procrastinate it away, but actually making them sign something pushed a lot of people from no to yes.”
Other employees, he said, are just being stubborn.
“I think they’re doing it out of spite to a certain degree, and they’ll probably go get it on their own. I know the employees, and unfortunately, they don’t like to participate in city things,” he said. “I don’t want to draw too many conclusions about it from those employees, but the vast majority are getting it.”
Federal and state health officials have long warned that vaccine hesitancy could be an obstacle to reaching herd immunity, but that’s largely a problem for later. In Delaware and the United States, overwhelming demand for the vaccine has well outpaced the supply so far.
As of Monday, the state has administered 150,000 doses, mostly to health care workers, first responders, seniors and frontline workers. More than 100,000 seniors signed up for the waiting list, and many are still waiting to be called.
Last week, state officials announced they had to delay the next phase of eligibility, which includes people with high-risk medical conditions, people living in group settings and other essential workers. The phase was supposed to start March 1, and no updated start date has been announced.
Both the vaccines currently in use are approximately 95 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 and even more effective at preventing hospitalizations and deaths.