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Supervisors Vote Down Proposal To Prioritize Law Enforcement For COVID-19 Vaccine

A Chula Vista police car is pictured in this undated photo.
KPBS Staff
A Chula Vista police car is pictured in this undated photo.

A divided Board of Supervisors Tuesday rejected a proposal to immediately administer COVID-19 vaccinations to all law enforcement personnel, with dissenters citing the limited availability of vaccine doses and the need to finish inoculating health care workers and seniors.

Supervisor Joel Anderson made the proposal, saying it was important to prioritize those in uniform, who are risk every day while out in the field. A law enforcement officer who contracts COVID-19 may not die, but if they're not on duty, it hurts overall public safety and could put residents' lives at risk, Anderson argued.

"I'm not saying what's best for every district, (but) we'd like to move law enforcement up," he said, adding that counties such as Monterey, Riverside and Sacramento have made law enforcement vaccinations a priority.

Curious how the vaccine rollout is going in San Diego County? KPBS is tracking the progress.

Paramedics, emergency medical technicians and others providing emergency medical services are currently eligible for vaccines, according to the county. However, law enforcement officers are not included in that group.

Board Chairman Nathan Fletcher said he would support vaccinating law enforcement personnel if there was adequate vaccine supply.

"I want law enforcement and teachers to get it now," Fletcher said, but added that doing so "means depriving senior citizens in need right now," Fletcher said.

He noted that seniors represent the majority of COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations.

County Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten said health care workers are still at greatest risk for exposure in county, with first responders ranking second.

"The bottleneck here is vaccine. We don't have enough of it," Wooten said. "We anticipate these groups will open up as more vaccine is available."

Wooten said she would not change the current recommendations in place. She also said if there are leftover vaccines at official county sites, it's possible for firefighters, law enforcement officers and teachers to get one.

Wooten pointed to county statistics showing there have been 515 COVID-19 cases among law enforcement, compared to 25,892 cases for those age 65 and up.

"Law enforcement will be next in line," Wooten said.

RELATED: San Diego County Reports 789 COVID-19 Cases, 32 Deaths

Supervisor Jim Desmond voted in favor of Anderson's proposal, citing reports that COVID-19 is now the biggest killer of law enforcement. But the proposal failed on a 2-3 vote.

Supervisor Nora Vargas said she acknowledged the great work law enforcement does, "but we have to ensure a fair and equitable process" for vaccinations.

David Garcias, president of the Service Employees International Union, said Anderson's proposal "pits law enforcement against our essential workers and senior citizens."

"We urge you not to approve the proposal as it's written," he added.

Debra Rosen, president of the North San Diego Business Chamber, disagreed, and said supervisors should consider moving law enforcement into a higher priority tier.

"Our law enforcement officers aren't more important than other essential workers, but it's critical to consider getting them vaccinated," Rosen said.