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High Burden of COVID-19 Among Unvaccinated Law Enforcement Officers and Fire Fighters

Lauren E.W. Olsho, Abt Global; Alberto J. Caban-Martinez, University of Miami; Manjusha Gaglani, Baylor Scott and White Health; Harmony Tyner, St. Luke’s Regional Health Care System Duluth, MN; Sarang K. Yoon, University of Utah; Allison L. Naleway, Kaiser Permanente Northwest Center for Health Research; Jefferey L. Burgess, Univrsity of Arizona


July 19, 2022

In an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers from several institutions including Abt Global said they found that firefighters, law-enforcement-officers, and other first responders are at increased risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection compared with healthcare personnel, but have relatively low COVID-19 vaccine uptake. Low vaccination rates could disrupt essential public services and threaten public health and safety.

The authors based their conclusions on data from two studies they work on for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Research on the Epidemiology of SARS-CoV-2 in Essential Response Personnel (RECOVER) and Healthcare, Emergency Response, and Other Essential Workers Surveillance Study (HEROES).

The authors found that only a third of the first responders trusted what the government said about COVID-19 vaccines and only 12 percent of the unvaccinated first responders did. Avoiding vaccination had serious consequences; from January to September 2021, unvaccinated law-enforcement-officers were 20 times more likely to get COVID-19 than their vaccinated colleagues. Firefighters were five times more likely to have COVID-19. On average, those who were infected were sick for more than two weeks and missed close to 40 hours of work.

These findings suggest that “state and local governments with large numbers of unvaccinated first responders may face major disruptions in their workforce,” the letter said. State and local governments should consider vaccine mandates for first responders, and may additionally need to work with trusted non-governmental partners to promote COVID-19 vaccination among first responders, the letter concluded.