Are "hundreds" of Massachusetts state troopers refusing the vaccine?

The title of this article in the Boston Globe today has no doubt set off some alarm bells in Massachusetts. “State Police were offered COVID-19 vaccines at work. Hundreds have declined to get them.” Given the priority that Governor Charlie Baker has placed on vaccinating first responders and the efforts that have been made to get that accomplished, it would no doubt come as a disappointment if the State Police were demonstrating vaccine hesitation in large numbers. That’s clearly what the title of the article states, but is it true?

Although the Baker administration has rejected calls for teacher-specific clinics, arguing it could divert doses from other needy populations amid a tight supply, the state created three State Police vaccination sites for troopers and other first responders during the earlier stage of the rollout.

As of Friday, 2,002 of 2,847 eligible State Police employees, including civilians, had received at least one dose at one of the department clinics in Framingham, Plymouth, or Chicopee, according to data released in response to a Boston Globe request…

“Police officers in general, particularly today with all the scrutiny on them, I think they’re very skeptical of just about everything,” said Dennis Galvin, a retired State Police major and president of the Massachusetts Association for Professional Law Enforcement, a group of current and retired law enforcement and criminal justice advocates. Galvin said he is personally scheduled to receive his first dose Tuesday.

Based on the numbers being reported, it looks at first glance as if more than 800 of the roughly 2,800 troopers have taken a pass on getting vaccinated. That’s well over 25% and it probably wouldn’t be sending a very good message to the rest of the state’s residents. But there’s clearly more here than meets the eye.

First of all, as the Globe readily admits, those records are only from the three specific pods that the state set up solely for the vaccination of police. Some of the officers may have wound up going somewhere else for their vaccinations, particularly if they live a significant distance from any of the three police pods. Others may have underlying conditions that led their doctors to advise them to wait.

Officials in the police union that represents the state troopers told reporters that they don’t monitor or track vaccinations among their members. The cops have been advised to consult with their physicians and decide for themselves. In other words, they can neither confirm nor deny the total number of unvaccinated cops. So it’s entirely possible that the vaccination rate among the troopers is substantially higher.

Unfortunately, that may not be the case in other areas of law enforcement in the Bay State. The Globe has been able to pin down numbers in two areas where vaccine hesitancy is confirmed to be well above average. At the Bristol County sheriff’s office, 66% of the people working there have declined the chance to be jabbed. It’s nearly as bad at the Department of Corrections where more than half have said no thank you to a shot. That’s particularly worrisome when you consider the infection rates in the jails, where outbreaks have escalated far faster than in the general population when they occur.

For some reason I had been under the impression that the entire vaccine hesitancy thing had abated significantly now that the shots have been rolling out in large numbers. Catastrophic results from being vaccinated are almost unheard of, and even incidents of serious, though nonfatal side effects are only being seen in a tiny percentage of those who have been vaccinated. Hopefully we’ll get this all sorted out eventually, but at least for now there are clearly some first responders in Massachusetts who still have their doubts.