In Washington state, the vaccine mandate deadline—after which state employees who declined to get vaccinated for COVID-19 would be let go—arrived on October 18. There have been some high-profile holdouts in the state with the mandate, including the Washington State University (WSU) football head coach who was ousted this week from his $3.1 million-a-year position over his refusal to get the vaccine. And though many have gone ahead and gotten the shots, a handful of state employees have stood their ground on principle, choosing to give up their careers rather than comply with a government mandate in a public health emergency.
One of those employees is this Washington State Patrol officer who shared a video of his final sign-off on the mandate deadline. What I find interesting about this particular video is that he’s so calm and reasonable sounding. He’s not spouting conspiracy theories. He’s not cussing out the governor. He’s not ranting about tyranny. He’s simply stating that he’s taking “a moral stand for medical freedom and personal choice” and sharing words of thanks and encouragement to his fellow officers. His seemingly sane sincerity is almost enough to make me sympathetic.
And yet, ironically, everything he says makes it clear that his refusal of the vaccine makes zero sense.
The fatal flaw in this video is how the officer repeatedly talks about staying safe and coming home at the end of the day. He talks about how relieved his wife and kids are at the end of each shift. He makes it clear that an officer’s job is dangerous and he tells his fellow officers to “stay safe” and “take care of one another.”
Here’s the thing. The single greatest danger to police officers’ safety is COVID-19. That’s not a guess or assumption, it’s math.
According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, COVID-19 was the No. 1 cause of death for police officers in the United States in 2020, and so far in 2021 as well. And it’s not just No. 1 by a little bit. In fact, five times more officers have been killed by COVID-19 than by gunfire in the past two years. In Washington state specifically, half of the law enforcement officers who have died this year were killed by COVID-19. In 2020, it was more than half.
COVID-19 vaccines reduce the chance of getting and transmitting COVID-19 and greatly reduce the chance of death from the virus. So if this officer is truly as concerned about safety as he sounds, he’d get the vaccine. If he’s as concerned about his fellow officers as he sounds, he’d get the vaccine. If he wants officers to take care of one another, as he says, he’d get the vaccine—and he’d encourage others to do the same. If he cares about protecting and serving the people of Washington, he’d get the vaccine.
He talks about the number of officers and sergeants who will no longer be serving as of this week, due to their refusal to get vaccinated. But what about the officers no longer serving because they were taken by COVID-19? Many of those officers didn’t have a choice to get vaccinated because they died before vaccines were available. How would they feel about their fellow officers refusing to do the one simple thing that could have saved them from dying in the line of duty?
Police officers are required to do risky things in their job. Driving around in a patrol car carries a risk. Being armed with a gun carries a risk. Obviously, chasing down criminals carries a risk. Does getting vaccinated for COVID-19 carry a risk? Yes. But it’s a tiny one, and remaining unvaccinated is a far, far riskier choice for you and your colleagues and the people you swore to protect and serve.
The officer said he was taking a stand for medical choice, but he’s doing so without acknowledging 1) the public health emergency/global pandemic that prompted the need for the vaccine he’s refusing, and 2) the fact that caring about safety makes getting vaccinated the only logical choice.
But a choice it is. Losing your job over vaccine refusal during a public health crisis that has killed 700,000 Americans is a choice. And it’s one that doesn’t make any sense when the purpose of your job is to protect and serve the public.
Sir, I get the “medical freedom” argument, but you are refusing to take one small risk to minimize a known danger that has killed more of your fellow officers than every other line-of-duty cause of death combined in the past two years. Just seems like an odd hill to choose to die on.