AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Police Department confirmed to KXAN that all APD employees can begin receiving the COVID-19 vaccine starting Monday.
These vaccines for APD officers are coming even sooner than expected, just days ago, the Austin Police Association told KXAN that APD officers were scheduled to start getting their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in January.
According to the state’s guidelines, first responders like firefighters and medics have priority to get the COVID-19 vaccine before police officers. These vaccinations for APD are being coordinated through the Austin Public Safety Wellness Center, which provides other vaccinations for Austin’s public safety employees. City of Austin spokespeople confirmed to KXAN that employees at Austin Fire, Austin Police, and Austin Travis County EMS will be able to receive these vaccines through the wellness center starting Monday.
According to the Texas Department of State Health Services’ allocations for the second week of COVID-19 vaccine distribution, the Austin Public Safety Wellness Center is listed as receiving 1,300 doses of the Moderna vaccine. At an Austin Public Safety Commission meeting earlier this month, Assistant Austin Police Chief Troy Gay said the department’s authorized strength is 1,809 employees, with 1,770 APD positions filled at that time.
APD Officer Marcus Davis, who spoke with KXAN as a representative of the department’s public information office, said the decision for APD officers to get the vaccine wasn’t made by APD. He said the department will be receiving Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine starting Monday.
Davis was not sure if the vaccines will go to only APD officers or to civilian employees, as well.
While APD had originally told KXAN that APH would be administering the vaccine at the APH building, Austin Public Health told KXAN Sunday that APH staff will not be administering the vaccine to APD this week and that there will not be any vaccines administered tomorrow by APH at the APH building.
Austin Public Health clarified to KXAN that once the vaccine arrives this week, APH will begin a closed vaccine clinic for people who fall under the state’s first tier of people to receive the vaccine, but not police officers. APH said it will begin providing vaccines for frontline health care staff including its own direct health care staff, COVID-19 response staff, Travis County Jail direct health care clinical staff, long term care staff and residents not enrolled with a vaccine provider and school nurses that are not enrolled with a vaccine provider.
Vaccinations for first responders already in progress
Some first responders in Austin, including ATCEMS medics and Austin firefighters, began receiving the COVID-19 vaccine last weekend. ATCEMS told KXAN at the time that the opportunity for medics to get the shot came earlier than expected.
Christa Stedman, Public Information Office Captain for Austin-Travis County EMS, told KXAN Sunday that while ATCEMS has not made the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for employees, “the vast majority” of its medics have opted in through a survey sent to all eligible employees several weeks ago. So far, Stedman says 44% of the department’s medics have already been vaccinated through a partnership with UT Austin’s Dell Medical School.
The remaining medics who wish to be vaccinated but have not gotten their doses yet will be vaccinated started Monday through the Austin Public Safety Wellness Center. Stedman said ATCEMS’ goal is to get vaccines to all employees who want them within two weeks.
“We are so excited to be able to vaccinate our workforce, which sees COVID patients daily, often without any assistance from our partner agencies. Our medics have never faltered in their commitment to this community, and we are ecstatic to have the ability to protect them even further with the vaccine.”Christa Stedman, Captain, Public Information Office, Austin-Travis County EMS
Some Austin Police officers have already been vaccinated
Some Austin Police officers have already received the COVID-19 vaccine through their work with local hospitals. Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday told KXAN he received the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine last week through his part-time work with Ascension Seton. Casaday expects to get his second dose of the shot in a few weeks.
“I didn’t have any side effects,” Casaday said, “and I’m looking forward to the officers taking advantage of this, but also the Association respects officers’ rights not to take it if they don’t wish to.”
In Casaday’s experience, the COVID-19 “was nothing compared to the Shingrix vaccine” for Shingles which he had earlier this year.
He said he received an email this weekend from the department explaining that APD will begin receiving Moderna’s vaccine on Monday.
Casaday said the department had told him there is enough of the vaccine that everyone in APD can be vaccinated if they wish to take it, though they are not required to take it.
In Casaday’s view, the number of APD officers testing positive for COVID-19 related to their work justifies officers receiving the vaccine now.
“We go into people’s homes, we are dealing with the homeless community every day, we are dealing with people face-to-face and arresting them,” Casaday noted.
At the December 7 Austin Public Safety Commission meeting, APD presented data showing that since March, there have been a total of 78 positive COVID-19 cases among the department’s sworn personnel and 24 cases among civilian personnel. Of those cases, a majority were covered under Worker’s Compensation, meaning they were work-related.
Who gets the vaccine next?
Right now across Texas, most areas are in Phase 1A of COVID-19 vaccine distribution, which includes frontline workers, healthcare workers, and long-term care facilities.
Last week the Texas Department of State Health Services told vaccine providers to focus on Phase 1A, but when they have the opportunity and supply to vaccinate other priority populations, to go ahead and do it.
KXAN will be updating this story with the latest details as it develops.