They were among the first given access to the COVID-19 vaccine. How many first responders got it?

Investigative

YORK COUNTY, Va. (WAVY) — Every day, police officers, firefighters and paramedics accept some risk as they serve the public.  

During the pandemic, contracting COVID-19 added to potential dangers on the job, so when a vaccine became available, first responders were among the first to qualify.

As the United States approaches one year from the time the first shots were administered, 10 On Your Side found the rate of vaccination varies drastically among Hampton Roads’ public safety and fire departments in cities and counties that collected the information.  

On the Southside, Chesapeake and Virginia Beach are not collecting information on the vaccine status of any city staff. 

The lowest in the region, Suffolk Fire & Rescue and Portsmouth police both have less than 50% of their members vaccinated. 

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Norfolk combined its police and fire department data, reporting 66% of staff vaccinated. 

Hampton and Newport News fire departments are 80% vaccinated, and both cities’ police departments are also near that figure. 

PERCENT OF STAFF VACCINATED AGAINST COVID-19 

City/CountyFirePolice
Williamsburg 93 91 
York County 84 73 
Newport News 80 79 
Hampton 80 78 
James City County 79 68 
Norfolk 66 66 
Portsmouth 63 46 
Suffolk 48 60 
Chesapeake N/A N/A 
Virginia Beach N/A N/A 

For a resident dialing 911 on the upper Virginia Peninsula, there’s an even higher chance the responding firefighter or police officer will be vaccinated against COVID-19. 

Williamsburg’s fire and police departments take the top spots, with more than 90% of personnel vaccinated.  

In James City County, 79% of firefighters and 68% of police officers got the shot.  

Similarly, in York County, the percent of vaccinated firefighters is higher than law enforcement. Eighty-four percent of the York County Fire & Life Safety division got the vaccine, compared to 73% of the county sheriff’s office.  

Fire Capt. Tyler Reid said he got the vaccine as soon as it was available to him, then became a vaccinator, helping others in the community get the shot. 

“I think there was a lot of excitement on the floor with the firefighters,” Reid said. “My wife is immune-compromised and I know a lot of guys I work with on the shift are in that same boat, so we were definitely ready to get the vaccine.” 

Still, the department had to deal with breakthrough infections and maintain strict safety protocols as the Delta variant began to surge, according to York County Fire Chief Stephen Kopczynski. 

“It’s constantly on my mind,” Kopczynski said. “We wanted to do everything we could to be able to provide that service to the public while keeping our personnel safe.” 

In York County, a vaccine mandate has not been enforced, but Reid said he is comfortable working among his unvaccinated colleagues because of the department’s dedication to wearing proper personal protective equipment and other risk mitigation factors. 

“I would love to see the department get to 100% vaccinated,” he said. “It’s a personal decision that I made and I’d like to see others make it as well. I think the evidence is clear that it definitely reduces your risk.” 

Kopczynski said he is not surprised to see around 16% of his crew refusing the COVID-19 vaccine. 

“Every year, we provide our personnel the opportunity to get the flu vaccine. Some folks decide not to get it,” he said. 

Kopczynski would not say if he thought a mandate should be enforced but said if it did happen, it would be a county-level decision.  

“Time helps us quite a bit, things like the formal authorization of the Pfizer vaccine, as an example,” Kopczynski said. “We believe through education of our folks we will gain further acceptance of the vaccine.” 

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Senatara COVID-19 Infographic (Dec. 2020)

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