Despite rise in delta cases, U.S. police forces pushback against vaccine mandates

Following the full FDA approval of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine, an increasing number of cities and states are now mandating vaccinations for their employees — or requiring them to get tested weekly. But there has been some intense pushback from law enforcement and first responders across the country. Art Acevedo, Miami’s chief of police who supports a mandate, joins William Brangham to discuss.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Following the full FDA approval of a COVID-19 vaccine, an increasing number of cities and states are now mandating employees roll up their sleeves and get vaccinated, or submit to weekly testing.

    But, as William Brangham reports, there's been some intense pushback from law enforcement and first responders across the country.

  • William Brangham:

    That's right, Amna.

    In Chicago, responding to that city's October vaccine mandate, the head of the police union said his members won't comply. This has literally lit a bomb underneath the membership. He said: "We're in America, G-damn it. We don't want to be forced to do anything, period. This ain't Nazi F-ing Germany."

    Similarly, in Los Angeles, a city fire department captain went online and blasted the imminent vaccine mandate for all city employees:

  • Capt. Cristian Granucci, Los Angeles City Fire Department:

    This is not a political issue. This is not left-right. This is not Democrat-Republican. This is not vax-unvax. This is a fight for freedom of choice, free will. This is a fight against tyranny.

  • William Brangham:

    Joining me now is a police chief who does support vaccine mandates for front-line workers.

    Art Acevedo is Miami's chief of police.

    Chief Acevedo, great to have you on the "NewsHour."

    You heard these criticisms before, I know. Explain why you think it is a good idea, why we should have everybody vaccinated on the front line?

  • Art Acevedo:

    Well, because we know we're out making public contact as first responders, and that our number priority is the health and well-being of the work force and the public itself.

    And so we would hate to unwittingly spread a deadly virus to a member of the community. And so I believe in the vaccine. I believe in the science. And, quite honestly, when you look at the data, less than 1 percent of people that have died from COVID are people that are vaccinated.

    So, you got to go with the odds. And the odds are that you're much safer when you're vaccinated, and so is the public.

  • William Brangham:

    I know, in Miami, you guys have not instituted a mandate yet. That's a city decision. But you're getting pushback already from your union.

    I'd like to read a quote here: "It is the stance of the Miami Fraternal Order of Police that vaccinations are a choice that should be made personally, without coercion or threats. Should chief Art Acevedo attempt to mandate vaccines, we will be forced to challenge said mandate."

    How do you respond to that?

  • Art Acevedo:

    Well, look, we're public servants. And vaccines have been required, whether it's school, employment, the military.

    And so I would just say that, fortunately, here in Miami, we're starting to see, with the uptick due to the Delta variant and the lethality of the Delta variant, and now with the approval, formal approval by the FDA, we're starting to see more and more employees are coming up and saying, hey, I'm getting vaccinated, I'm going to go do it.

    And so we're still hopeful that the common sense will win the day, that we won't have to mandate them. But I think that the time will tell where we go as a city and as a nation.

  • William Brangham:

    I mean, as you say, Florida is suffering record high cases, near record daily deaths. The hospitals are full. Funeral homes don't — can't keep up.

    What is your sense as to why this resistance exists among the rank-and-file?

  • Art Acevedo:

    I wish I knew the answer to that.

    Unfortunately, it's just another indication of the division in this country, where we politicize everything. Like, I encourage people that, when you want to find out about the weather, you go to a meteorologist. When you want to find out about what to do in terms of a vaccine or a virus or a public health issue, you go to the doctors. You go to the scientists.

    And so, luckily, again, with the FDA approval, I think that people are starting to get more comfortable with it. And I'm hopeful that common sense will win the day moving forward.

  • William Brangham:

    Do you think this is all partisan politics, though?

    Because I have heard from a lot of people that there are people out there, they may not consult the CDC or epidemiologists or public health officials. Do you feel like you guys have done a good enough job trying to assess rank-and-file's questions about the vaccine, and then try to address those questions?

  • Art Acevedo:

    Yes, we are.

    We are paying attention to the information. We're giving information to folks. And — but to say that it's not a political issue, I listened to the sound bite you played earlier, lord, you would think it was beginning of the revolution just because you want somebody to get vaccinated, where the data and the science shows — look, vaccinations are not a new science.

    Vaccinations have been saving lives forever. I'm starting to print and tweet out letters that I do for all peace officers that come to my attention that have died. I have always done line-of-duty death letters.

    And I can tell you, I have signed hundreds of letters for active-duty members of law enforcement.


  • William Brangham:

    That's law enforcement who have died of COVID?

  • Art Acevedo:

    Of COVID.

    And it's been hundreds for me. So I'm tweeting those. I just started tweeting them recently. I did 10 a couple days ago, six last night. I just did 10 more today — two more today. And so they're just adding up.

    And I can tell you, as I speak to my work force, I don't think we're going to have to mandate, because I just got off the phone a little while ago with a member of our department that was very hesitant, for whatever reasons. He's been in the hospital.

    And he says: Chief, the second I get back to work, and I'm already telling my friends, this has been the worst thing I have ever experienced in my life. I came close to dying. And I am going to get vaccinated in exactly about 90 days as soon as I can, because I bit the bullet. I dodged a bullet, they are saying, and I don't want my friends to go through this, and I don't want to see a friend die.

  • William Brangham:

    A lot of the union chiefs and other representatives have been saying, if you mandate this kind of a thing, you're going to see people not showing up for work.

    Do you worry that that might be a downstream consequence? When you need police the most, you might not have them.

  • Art Acevedo:

    Well, look, whether you have them or whether they're out with COVID or they're being buried from dying from COVID, it's an issue either way you go.

    I know the collective heart of the American police officers. They are dedicated, brave professionals. And I'm confident that whatever decision is made across the country from different departments, different places, folks will make the right decision for the right reasons.

    And, again, because of the fact that we have had Pfizer now approved formally, Moderna, it's my understanding, is going to be approved very shortly, the comfort level is going up. And I think, hopefully, in the next matter of weeks, in a couple months, you're going to see many more people, because we are experiencing that here already.

    And that gives me a lot of hope.

  • William Brangham:

    Art Acevedo, chief of police, the city of Miami, thank you so much for being here.

  • Art Acevedo:

    Thank you.

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