Beginning Saturday, police officers and sheriff's deputies in San Diego County will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
The news comes weeks after law enforcement leaders called out the county for being too far back in line to get the vaccine
One of the most outspoken local law enforcement leaders in calling for vaccines, Chula Vista Police Chief Roxana Kennedy, said she is grateful her officers can now get one, but she added that this should have happened sooner.
“This is just a small percentage of the letters we’ve received supporting law enforcement,” said Kennedy, pointing to a table top covered in hand-written notes and cards.
Get San Diego local news, weather forecasts, sports and lifestyle stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC San Diego newsletters.
Earlier this month, NBC 7 and other outlets reported the county had yet to allow police officers access to the vaccine. Kennedy says the public response was overwhelming.
“Many people have been shocked by the fact that law enforcement wasn’t considered as a first responder on the front lines,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy said they didn’t just get letters; some groups even offered to give up their place in line.
Now, they won’t have to.
“We will be opening up vaccines to half a million San Diegans,” announced San Diego County Board of Supervisors Chair Nathan Fletcher at a press conference last Wednesday. That half a million San Diegan includes three sectors: education, food and agriculture, and law enforcement.
“Of course I’m happy that they’re going to do that,” says Kennedy. “But I’m also disappointed that it’s taken this long to recognize the importance of law enforcement."
As of Thursday, the county has not communicated with Chula Vista Police or San Diego Police about a designated day or distribution for law enforcement, unlike the vaccination of firefighters and EMT workers. This means law enforcement will have to compete with everyone else eligible for a vaccine to make an appointment.
“There is going to be considerable strain on the vaccination system and on the appointment system,” said Fletcher.
Still – the president of San Diego’s police union, Jack Schaeffer, said this news is a long time coming
“It just makes sense,” he said. Schaeffer believes a vaccine keeps both officers, and the community they serve, safe.
Since the start of the pandemic, more than 250 San Diego police officers have tested positive.
“The fact that 250 of us have tested positive,” says Schaeffer. “You can probably guess there were a lot of others who were never tested because they never knew. And that’s the scary thing about this pandemic."
A scare now somewhat quelled by giving those who are sworn to protect us, an opportunity, to protect themselves.
"That puts me much more at ease,” says Schaeffer.
Some officers have already been vaccinated by taking advantage of the leftover batches at the end of the day. More than 700 San Diego police officers have now received a vaccine this way.
Right now, there are 42 active COVID positive cases among San Diego County Sheriff employees. Since last March, nearly 550 employees have tested positive. One died from the virus.