LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. - The COVID-19 vaccine is now available for all Georgia first responders. That means anyone in fire rescue or law enforcement can sign up.
The problem? Even as daily COVID deaths set new records, few first responders are choosing to take the vaccine.
"I was hoping that the people I worked with would see how important the vaccine was you know," admitted DeKalb County fire captain Eric Ryals.
Yet in his department, less than half — 42% of first responders — have signed up or indicated they want the COVID vaccine.
Ryals caught COVID last month. And he made no secret among his co-workers the seriousness of his illness.
"They know how severe it was when I had it and I wouldn’t wish that on anybody," he said.
Henry County sheriff's deputy Nicholas Howell is the latest GA first responder to succumb to COVID.
In fact, across Georgia, at least 11 first responders have died from COVID-related causes, including a Henry County sheriff’s deputy earlier this month.
Yet in a survey by the FOX 5 I-Team, most departments report a majority of their people staying away from the vaccine.
Other departments told us they were still gauging interest among their workers.
Here’s the percentage of first responders who have signed up for the shot or indicated in a survey they want to be vaccinated. Some departments did not respond to our questions.
Lawrenceville Police 53%
Forsyth County Sheriff 50
Cherokee County Fire 44
Cobb County Fire 42
DeKalb County Fire 42
Fayette County Fire 38
Cherokee County Sheriff 33
Coweta County Fire 30
Spalding County Sheriff 28
Spalding County Fire 27
Forsyth County Fire 25
Henry County Sheriff 25
DeKalb County Police 15
Paulding County Fire 7.5
"I would like for it to be a little higher especially in our line of work where we have so much contact with the public," said Lawrenceville police chief Tim Wallis. His department actually ranked the highest in our survey at 53%.
One of his officers who’s not signed up is Gary Sampson.
"I just want to be cautious," he explained. Even though Sampson's daughter had to be briefly hospitalized after contracting COVID, he’s still worried about potential side effects from a vaccine that was invented in "warp speed" time.
"It’s not a matter of will I ever do it," he explained. "I know I will eventually. I just want to do a little more research."
He plans to watch how his boss handles the vaccine. Chief Wallis got his first shot last week.
The daughter of police officer Gary Sampson had to be briefly hospitalized after contracting COVID. Still, he plans to wait before getting vaccinated.
Other law enforcement executives are doing the same. Rockdale County Sheriff Eric Levett received his Monday. He is also a COVID survivor.
"Do your own research like I did," he said afterward. "The things you hear, call someone, especially a medical professional. Ask them. And hopefully it will change your mind or give you some comfort in making the decision."
The departments we surveyed told us there are no consequences for anyone who declines the vaccine.
Rockdale County sheriff Eric Levett got his shot Monday even though he already fought off COVID-19.
Law enforcement and other first responders were not supposed to be vaccinated this early. They’re in Phase 1b. But because so few people in Phase 1a wanted the vaccine, they got moved up.
DeKalb Fire captain Ryals works part-time for Pro Care EMS in Lawrenceville. They brought in Managed Health Solutions Pharmacy to distribute the vaccine onsite rather than require staff to try to register through the jammed health center website.
Ryals was one of the first to sign up.
"I’m on the side of the fence where only good can come of it," he explained.
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