Time for unvaccinated cops to choose health and common sense, not politics

It’s unclear what discipline the city will hand down to cops who won’t get vaccinated and don’t have medical or religious exemptions.

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Chicago Police Supt. David Brown gives an update on recent arrests and vaccination rates among police officers, Monday, Nov. 1, 2021.

Chicago Police Supt. David Brown gives an update on recent arrests and vaccination rates among police officers on Nov. 1, 2021.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Over 2,000 Chicago police officers remain unvaccinated, and that’s bad news for Chicagoans — and really, for cops themselves.

Infections have plummeted, mask mandates have been lifted, and life is getting back to a new normal — and vaccination is the biggest reason why. That’s a victory worth celebrating and doing one’s part to maintain.

So we’re beyond puzzled as to why so many Chicago officers remain so stubbornly resistant to getting a safe, effective vaccine against a disease that, at its height, sickened and killed so many of their fellow officers here and elsewhere across the country.

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We get the politics going on, fomented in large part by Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara, who’s fought the vaccine mandate tooth and nail.

But to put politics before health and common sense — and risk harming one’s career in the process — makes no sense.

COVID-19 was the leading cause of death among police officers nationwide in 2021 and 2020, the National Law Enforcement Memorial and Museum has reported. In Chicago, thousands of officers contracted COVID, and five died, during the height of the pandemic.

Yet 2,110 Chicago police officers still aren’t vaccinated against COVID, as WBEZ reported recently. They put themselves and others at risk, even as researchers tell us, over and over, that the vaccines provide a high level of protection against severe illness or death from COVID-19.

Some two-thirds of unvaccinated officers have been given a medical or religious exemption by the city. That is their right, though it’s our view that government and other workplaces faced with a public health crisis should get rid of all vaccine exemptions save for physician-documented medical exemptions.

That leaves some 700 Chicago officers who are unvaccinated and without an exemption. They are in direct violation of the city’s vaccine mandate, though only 15 have been placed on a no-pay status so far.

It’s unclear what discipline, including firing, they might face. Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Police Supt. David Brown are in a tough spot, given the high number of officers leaving the department and summer — which usually brings an uptick in crime — on the horizon.

In the end, it’s up to the officers to choose the wise course — getting the shot, if they are medically able to do so. Those who refuse do a blatant disservice not just to their own health but to the public they’re sworn to serve and protect.

“COVID-19 is the #1 killer of police officers nationwide,” as Brown wrote on Twitter last October. “Complying with the City’s vaccine mandate is about officer safety. It’s about protecting the health of our officers, their family members, those we serve and each other.”

No way to say it any plainer than that.

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