St. Paul police lined up to receive their first doses of the Moderna vaccine Wednesday, as distribution widens to some law enforcement personnel.

Police Chief Todd Axtell rolled up his sleeve — and is now asking his staff to do the same in the fight against COVID-19.

"I encourage those who have the opportunity to get a vaccine to do so. I am happy to do my part in helping stop the spread," Axtell wrote on social media, where he posted a photo of a nurse administering the shot. "While it has been a challenging year, hopefully we can see an end to this soon."

At least 125 St. Paul police employees, including Axtell, have tested positive since the virus took hold last spring. In Minneapolis, police reported approximately 170 cases among its sworn officers and civilian staff.

While immunization is not mandatory, top brass at the state's two largest police departments are strongly encouraging rank-and-file members to get the shot.

In a departmentwide e-mail Friday, Axtell acknowledged that the choice is ultimately up to employees, but he implored individuals to consider the impact that decision has on loved ones.

"My first concern is your well-being and health, which is why I urge you to get this vaccine," he said. "We are prioritized because of the sacrifices we make as first responders, the fact that we put service to others first. That also puts us in positions that can create exposure risks and impact our friends and families."

He also stressed that the "vaccine does not contain SARS-CoV-2 and cannot give you COVID-19."

It's not immediately clear how many of the department's roughly 600 officers plan to get inoculated or how long that process might take.

Meanwhile, their counterparts in Minneapolis aren't slated to receive vaccinations for another few weeks.

Chief Medaria Arradondo turned down his opportunity to get the shot alongside Fire Chief Bryan Tyner late last year, said department spokesman John Elder, because Arradondo preferred to wait and be vaccinated at the same time as his staff.

The state is still working to distribute the vaccine among 500,000 long-term care residents and front-line health care workers, including EMS first-responders. Police officers generally fall within the broader category of essential employees.

However, St. Paul-Ramsey County Public Health was granted approval to begin administering a "limited number" of doses to law enforcement this week while simultaneously vaccinating the remainder of its highest priority group.

"We've been told by the state we can move ahead," said department spokesman Chris Burns. "Where it makes sense, logistically, we're doing that."

At least 75% — or 300 of roughly 400 — Minneapolis firefighters had received their second dose of the Moderna vaccine as of Wednesday, Tyner said. Twenty more are still on the first shot and the remaining 80 chose to opt out.

"I would have preferred that everyone got it," Tyner said, but he applauded the department for surpassing the city's goal to vaccinate 70% of workers.

Liz Sawyer • 612-673-4648