When their turn comes, Minneapolis' first responders will not be required to take the COVID-19 vaccine before coming to work, officials said this week.
While the first shipments of the first vaccine only arrived in Minnesota earlier this month, police officers and firefighters are still likely weeks, if not months, away from receiving their doses. Whether they will choose to roll up their sleeves is another matter.
When the time comes, immunization will not be compulsory for MPD officers, said department spokesman John Elder, adding that he expects most officers will choose to be vaccinated.
He said the department was still working out the logistics of when and how to distribute the doses, as well as which of its sworn and civilian employees will be first in line for the vaccine when it's available.
"We are strongly encouraging our staff to get these vaccinations, but there will be no mandate," said Elder. Police leaders made their decision in consultation with other departments, including the city attorney's office, he said.
Whether the department even has the authority to require officers to get immunized is not clear, according to Elder.
A spokesman for the state Department of Health said that generally speaking, any vaccine that receives an emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration — as the two COVID-19 versions have — "cannot be mandated for the general population," although exceptions exist for individual employers. Last week, the federal government issued guidelines saying that employers can require workers to get vaccinated and potentially bar them from the workplace if they refuse.
Other departments around the country are wrestling with similar issues.
In New York City, officials also said that officers would not be required to get the shot, but left open the possibility that could change.
Officials said they worry that because of the nature of their work, first responders who have not been immunized could potentially spread the disease, which has killed more than 300,000 Americans.
Like the rest of the state, Minneapolis is on the downside of a pandemic wave that emerged this fall across the Upper Midwest, but that has since spread nationally and caused record infections. Through Tuesday, the city had recorded 27,660 cases, 332 of which have been fatal, according to internal data.
The state expects to receive 183,400 doses by the end of the year. Health care workers and long-term care residents will get the first crack at the vaccine, which will be delivered in two shots, with the second dose given three to four weeks after the first. State plans have called for several phases of distribution, starting with the highest-priority groups, followed by assisted-living residents, health care workers who weren't part of the first group, and then group home residents and others in residential care facilities. Only then will vaccinations likely expand to other essential workers, including fire and police, but also education, transportation and food and agricultural workers.
The city's newly appointed fire chief, Bryan Tyner, said he initially was inclined to require immunization for his 410 firefighters, but then changed his mind when it became clear that employees could still opt out for religious or medical reasons.
"I do understand people's concerns with the vaccine, even if I don't always share them," said Tyner, who plans to get vaccinated. He said he expects the "majority" of the department will get it, but that "just like the general population, we have some people who are skeptical."
Neither the police or fire departments have conducted surveys gauging interest in the vaccine as some cities have.
But, a recent survey found that Americans' willingness to be vaccinated against the highly infectious virus jumped significantly since Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna's candidates were authorized for emergency use by the FDA. Forty-six percent of respondents said they would take the vaccine as soon as they can — almost double the number who answered yes to that question in a survey in late October, according to the USA Today/Suffolk University poll.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Libor Jany • 612-673-4064 Twitter: @StribJany