On November 9, Pfizer announced that it has produced a vaccine that proved more than 90% effective in preventing COVID-19 infections.  The company said that no serious safety concerns emerged in a study of more than 43,000 participants who were given the vaccine. Pfizer plans to request federal approval to begin administering the vaccine later this month, and expects to manufacture enough doses for 15 to 20 million people by the end of 2020.

One challenge for widespread use of the Pfizer vaccine is that it must be stored at approximately -94 degrees Fahrenheit. However, major pharmacy companies such as Walgreens and CVS have said that their facilities are capable of storing the vaccine at that temperature.

Another company, Moderna, is making progress on a similar vaccine and expects to have results on its efficacy by the end of November. Other companies are proceeding with development and testing of their vaccines.

As mass vaccinations grow nearer, PERF will be exploring how vaccines will impact police departments and sheriffs’ offices.  Initial questions include:

-- Will police have a role in helping to provide security at vaccine distribution sites?

-- Will police officers and other first responders be among the first to receive a COVID-19 vaccine?

-- When vaccines become available, should police chiefs and sheriffs require or strongly encourage their employees to be vaccinated?  Or should this be a personal decision?

The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine last month released a final report that lays out a recommended plan for allocation, distribution, and administration of COVID-19 vaccines and related issues. The report recommends that police and other first responders be included in the first group (Phase 1a) of vaccine distribution, along with front-line health care workers.  And it recommends that prison and jail inmates be included in the next group (Phase 1b), along with residents of nursing homes, homeless shelters, and other high-risk populations.


However, the NAS report is only advisory in nature; it is not yet known how federal, state, and local governments will organize COVID-19 vaccination protocols and procedures. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also released a report in October that provides detailed guidance on managing limited supplies of vaccines, identifying critical populations, the roles of vaccine providers, and other issues.

For today’s COVID-19 Report, Chuck Wexler interviewed Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore, Norwood, MA Police Chief William Brooks, and Fairfax County, VA Police Chief Ed Roessler to get their perspectives on the role that local police agencies will play in vaccine distribution.


Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore

The current scenario is that the State of California has established a color-coding of its counties in terms of how hard the virus is impacting public health, and we‘re at the deepest state – it’s called purple – which means that a lot of less essential or nonessential functions are restricted. Schools of course are closed. We’re not in a lockdown state, but we‘re about one level above that.

Testing in the County of Los Angeles and City of Los Angeles is robust, with thousands of tests each day. Free testing at Dodger Stadium has long lines but they’re orderly; there have been no disturbances. Initially, when the testing sites were first established back in April and May, the LAPD did play a role by staffing those sites with officers for security. But there wasn‘t any violence or disputes over the course of months, so we were able to pull ourselves away from that role. Today they have contract security that provides a presence at the sites, and of course, we‘re nearby in case we’re needed.

As far as the vaccine goes, our county Department of Public Health has a vaccine task force that has been meeting for a month or two, working on planning issues. This task force consists of high-level county public health staff, including Dr. Barbara Ferrer, director of the department. I’m told that it’s been a challenging process, with many changing elements related to the vaccine companies, timeline of availability, storage, etc. They’re working on a draft plan that we should receive once it’s been approved by Dr. Ferrer. As things become more clear with federal and state vaccine planning, they’ll be reaching out to the cities to make sure plans are in place.

At this time, they’re telling me that initial doses will likely be scarce and targeted to health care workers, then vulnerable populations, then widely available. Eventually, there should be sufficient doses for the general public.

I think one difference with COVID is that the Pfizer vaccine requires super-cold refrigeration. And there’s a timed sequence of two weeks between the first and second shot that complicates the distribution of this vaccine.

On the question of requiring first responders to take the vaccine, versus it being optional, we see that about half of America is willing to take the vaccine, and the other half is hesitant or reluctant. I sense that we’ll have some of that as well within our organization. Starting with the fact that we have a 13,000-person organization, and just over 650 of our personnel have tested positive, it’s unclear whether those individuals will take the vaccine. 

I think that the best thing we can do is provide information so that people can make their own individual decision as to whether  the vaccine is the right preventive step for them.  If the effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine is 90%, that means that 10% of the people who receive it will not experience its benefit. And there’s still some uncertainty as to what side effects or other unintended consequences the vaccine might cause.

So I see us making the vaccine available to first responders at the earliest juncture, given the constant exposure they have in their day-to-day contacts with people. But I don’t see us mandating it at this point, given the information that we have.


Norwood, MA Police Chief William G. Brooks

Chuck Wexler:  Bill, before we get into the vaccine issue, how are things in Massachusetts with COVID now?

Chief Brooks:   When COVID first hit, we were the #3 state for infections, third only to New York and New Jersey.  It really ripped through Massachusetts, to the point that the governor commandeered the Convention Center in Boston and turned it into a hospital. We were really hit hard.

I think the state did a good job of getting it under control with a series of executive orders, and infection rates came down. But nearly every state is seeing an increase again, and Massachusetts is going up. But we’re starting at a lower point.

Massachusetts is an entirely incorporated state, which means that every place is a city or town.  And the state is rating each jurisdiction based on infection rates, as green, yellow, or red.  We had tipped in the red for a few weeks, but we’re back to yellow.

Wexler:  The Moderna vaccine is being produced near you.  Tell us about that.

Chief Brooks:  Yes, the news reports always mention that Moderna is based in Cambridge, but the manufacture of the vaccine is happening near Norwood. We’ve been in constant contact with the company on security matters. There haven’t been major issues, but we want to make sure that we’re available to them to provide whatever services or protection they need.

I can tell you that production there is running around the clock with 600 employees.  It’s really quite an operation, and they’re going great guns at it.

Wexler:   We’re hearing numbers like 50 million or 100 million for how many doses of these vaccines will be produced going into 2021. Is all of this being done in Norwood? 

Chief Brooks:  They have a few other sites, but we’ve been told that all of the manufacturing of the base material that forms the vaccine is occurring here. I think that is then introduced into a larger amount of secondary product that carries the vaccine.

I’ve been following all this closely, and it’s interesting to me that the Pfizer vaccine and the Moderna vaccine are both based on “messenger RNA” technology, or mRNA.  In fact, the name Moderna comes from mRNA.   Moderna is also in last-stage trials, just weeks  behind Pfizer.  The Pfizer vaccine is a two-shot vaccine, with the second shot coming  21 days after the first. The Moderna vaccine is similar, but the two shots are 28 days apart.

Wexler:   Have you received any guidance from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts about how vaccines will be disseminated and what your department’s role will be?

Chief Brooks:  There has not been any guidance from the state. I will just say that in our regional virtual meetings, I’ve raised the issue a few times based on what my health director has told me, and I’ve urged other chiefs to reach out to their health directors to at least sort of war-game how the vaccine might be distributed. But there’s been nothing from the state, unfortunately.

Wexler:  When you talk about this in your own department, will vaccination be an individual officer decision, or an organizational decision?

Chief Brooks:   I agree with Mike that at least at the outset, it will be an individual decision. But I’ve made it known that as soon as they open the gates, I’m going to be there!


Fairfax County, VA Police Chief Edwin Roessler

Wexler:  Back in 2007, PERF produced a 100-page report about how police agencies should plan for a type of pandemic like the one we are experiencing now. 

Our report was based largely on what four departments were doing, and your department was one of those four, along with Toronto; London, England; and Overland Park, Kansas. So you were way ahead of the curve.

Chief Roessler:  Yes, and our plan was about multi-use flexible event planning. It’s planning for different kinds of scenarios. We use that plan with our County Emergency Management across various issues that involve public safety and public health.

In Fairfax County, with more than 1.2 million residents in 400 square miles, we are the largest jurisdiction in the Commonwealth of Virginia.  Our medical director has great influence with the state, and we work together all the time with all the other agencies in the Northern Virginia region and our partners across the Potomac in Maryland and DC.

So we shifted gears very early in COVID, and set up things like a community reporting system to take away 43% of the in-person response to calls for service, to limit human-to-human contact out in the field, and that’s still in place.  We repurposed our school resource officers to take calls about minor motor vehicle crashes and other calls for service where it’s not a life safety issue.

With most public schools closed, we had school personnel who no longer had a day-to-day function, like school bus drivers and crossing guards, so our county’s human resources department has repurposed those people. When we did COVID testing, employees volunteered for training to be assigned to help with testing.

We’ve rehearsed our 2007 pandemic plan many times over the last 13 plus years, so we already have predesignated distribution centers throughout the entire county and Northern Virginia region that we can use for COVID vaccines.  

So when the vaccines come, I foresee having non-police employees helping at vaccine distribution centers.  It will require a multi-agency response, including public safety. For example,  we could get 1,000 people showing up at a distribution point, and if you only have 800 vaccines, you need to be able to cut the line off at 800, so people won’t wait needlessly.  And you need to use social media to get all of those messages out and keep the peace.

The other challenge we had with COVID testing is that we didn’t check for proof of residency in the county.   We had complaints about out-of-state persons or out-of-county persons coming. So that concerns me about crowd control and civil unrest.

Another issue is how you manage the fact that with some vaccines, there’s a second round of inoculation that you have to take. So you have to plan for how you schedule that.

Another issue we need to consider is immigration status. Are we going to check for IDs? If we do, is that going to deter people who are not here legally from getting the vaccine?  And is that going to increase the spread of COVID?

Wexler: Thanks, Ed. As always, you are ahead of the curve in identifying issues we all will need to deal with. We'll continue to explore these questions.


The PERF Daily COVID-19 Report is part of the Critical Issues in Policing project, supported by the Motorola Solutions Foundation.


PERF also is grateful to the Howard G. Buffett Foundation for supporting PERF’s COVID-19 work.