As COVID-19 Ravages His Force, LAPD Chief Looks To Boost Confidence In Vaccine

Jan 14, 2021
Originally published on January 14, 2021 5:16 pm

In Los Angeles, COVID-19 cases continue to soar at an astonishing rate. In the first seven days of the year, for instance, roughly seven people died each hour.

Ambulances are lining up in front of hospitals, waiting to unload patients into overcrowded intensive care units. Mobile morgues have rolled in as the death count rises. And many experts say the worst is still yet to come.

The coronavirus is taking a heavy toll on the some 13,000 employees of the Los Angeles Police Department. To date, five officers have died due to complications related to COVID-19, and six are currently hospitalized, one in grave condition, according to police Chief Michel Moore. More than 2,000 Los Angeles police personnel have tested positive as of earlier this week.

Like elsewhere in the country, the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine is already underway in Los Angeles. In an interview with NPR's All Things Considered, Moore says he is hopeful that police officers will start receiving them in the next 10 to 14 days.

But also reflecting national trends, an informal survey by the Los Angeles police earlier this month found that 60% of the 9,500 respondents plan to get the vaccine when it is made available to them, while slightly more than 20% said they would not. Another 13% said they needed more information.

"Their concern was for their safety, for — what we see across the country — the confidence that the vaccine is worth taking versus the risk of getting COVID-19 itself," Moore says.

Now, the department is working to increase confidence in the vaccine.

In excerpts from his interview, Moore discusses the reasons behind the vaccine hesitancy and what the department plans to do:

What is your honest assessment at this moment in time of how much of your department is unwilling or reluctant to get vaccinated?

I sat on a panel with Dr. [Anthony] Fauci, and I think he said it best. What is happening in law enforcement is happening all across the country, and that is, the majority of Americans see this vaccine as a critical juncture, the next step for our recovery and for their health and safety. But there is a segment that is worried about the safety of it, the efficiency of it and whether it's worth the risks. And we have a task before us here in Los Angeles and LA city and LAPD, is to provide education. And I think that as more education is provided, we'll see more of our people stepping into it. And I believe at the end, 8 out of 10 or more will take the vaccine.

Why not just make getting vaccinated mandatory?

Currently, the emergency authorization of the two vaccines does not allow, from an occupational health and safety provision, to mandate its provision. You see the same in the health care industry. When you have an emergency authorization, it's my understanding the law does not allow employers to mandate it. Now, once [the vaccine] becomes, if you will, formalized and not just an emergency allowance, I think that will be the next decision point for us in the health care industry, first responders, police, fire and other essential workers. ... So, we're taking this a step at a time. So our key right now is to provide critical information.

But if there are people in your department who don't trust the current guidance, the current science, what makes you think that they would trust your information campaign?

Because the men and women of the department are good listeners, they're good thinkers, they're critical thinkers; they rely on good, solid information. And so our task is to provide it. And the vast majority of people in law enforcement and our first responders want to protect themselves, and they want to protect their families. ... This [pandemic] has our people scared, and yet they still come to work each day, and they're still engaging in efforts to provide for safety and security of the city and they act responsibly.

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

And I'm Ailsa Chang in Los Angeles, where COVID cases continue to soar. Ambulances are lining up in front of hospitals, waiting to unload patients into overcrowded ICUs. Mobile morgues have rolled in as the death count rises. And many experts say the worst is still yet to come. There is some hope, though - the vaccine. But a recent informal survey of the Los Angeles Police Department found that only 60% of its employees plan to get vaccinated.

I spoke with the chief of the LAPD, Michel Moore, about this earlier today, and I started off by asking him if he's been vaccinated yet.

MICHEL MOORE: No, I have not. Currently, in Los Angeles County, we are part of the CDC Plan 1B. We're currently in 1A as a phasing, which is health care workers and those in long-term care facilities. I'm hopeful that we're going to see 1B, that next phase, begin within the next 10 to 14 days.

CHANG: OK. Well, I know that that survey I just cited was just an informal survey. It's from earlier this month. So let me just ask you right now - what is your honest assessment at this moment in time of how much of your department is unwilling or reluctant to get vaccinated?

MOORE: To give more context of your survey, we had more than 9,500 people participate in the survey. Our organization is just over approximately 13,000. And in the first question, first time they were asked about two weeks ago, 6 out of 10 said absolutely yes, 13% said I need a little more information, and then the remainder, just over 20% said no, and their concern was for their safety.

I sat on a panel with Dr. Fauci, and I think he said it best. What is happening in law enforcement is happening all across the country, and that is the majority of Americans see this vaccine as a critical juncture, the next step for our recovery and for their health and safety. But there is a segment that is worried about the safety of it, the efficiency of it and whether it's worth the risks. And we have a task before us here in Los Angeles and LA City and LAPD, and it's to provide education. And I think that as more education is provided, we'll see more of our people stepping into it. And I believe at the end, we'll see 8 out of 10 or more take the vaccine.

CHANG: Why not just make getting vaccinated mandatory?

MOORE: Well, currently, the emergency authorization of the two vaccines does not allow, from an occupational health and safety provision, to mandate its provision. You see the same in the health care industry. When you have an emergency authorization, it's my understanding the law does not allow employers to mandate it. Now, once it becomes, if you will, formalized and not just an emergency allowance, I think that will be the next decision point for us and the health care industry, first responders, police, fire and other essential workers is vaccinating them. So we're taking this a step at a time. So our key right now is to provide critical information.

CHANG: What will this information campaign look like?

MOORE: So it's both hearing it, seeing it and experiencing it. It's sharing with them CDC and health department information, both from a pictogram, factogram (ph), as well as the details of what's behind the research.

CHANG: But may I ask you, Chief, if there are people in your department who don't trust the current guidance, the current science, what makes you think that they would trust your information campaign?

MOORE: Well, because the men and women of the department, they're good listeners. They're good thinkers. They're critical thinkers. They rely on good, solid information. And so our task is to provide it. And the vast majority of people in law enforcement and our first responders want to protect themselves, and they want to protect their families. We've lost five employees to this pandemic, and we've lost family members of employees to this pandemic. The mortality - I have six people that are currently in the hospital. One of them is in very grave condition. Now, this has our people scared, but yet they still come to work each day, and they're still engaging in efforts to provide for safety and security of the city. And they act responsibly.

CHANG: And finally, obviously, as we approach Inauguration Day, there is a lot of concern out there about possible unrest and violence in various cities across the country. How is your department preparing?

MOORE: Oh, we're leaning into this very heavily. We recognize that there's no specific or credible information about LA or Los Angeles being targeted. We recognize that while we're not an express target, we do have those type of extremist elements in a region of 10 million people. And so we're asking the public - if they see something, say something. Recognize that it is time that they may see evidence or clue of preoperational planning. They need to talk to their local law enforcement officer - not just LAPD, but anywhere across this country. All of us need to have our ears back and our eyes up and recognize that this right now is a time in which to ensure the safety and sanctity of this democracy is protected. And that's an obligation of all of America.

CHANG: LAPD Chief Michel Moore. Thank you very much for your time today.

MOORE: Well, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.