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More U.S. first responders are dying of COVID-19

It’s a stark contrast from the beginning of the vaccine rollout when first responders were prioritized for shots.
Credit: AP
Octavia Tokley standing right, along with her mother-in-law, Ikelyn, step-daughter 21 year old Tamaira, step-son 12-year old XavierSunday, and daughter Amethyst, five years old, pose with a portrait of Erin "Toke" Tokley, a Philadelphia cop who died from COVID-19 in March, on Aug. 29, 2021, in Secane, Pa. Tokley was scheduled to be vaccinated on March 11 – which turned out to be his funeral. (AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)

The resurgence of COVID-19 this summer and the national debate over vaccine requirements have created a fraught situation for the United States' first responders, who are dying in larger numbers but pushing back against mandates.

It’s a stark contrast from the beginning of the vaccine rollout when first responders were prioritized for shots.

The mandates affect tens of thousands of police officers, firefighters and others on the front lines across the country, many of whom are spurning the vaccine. That is happening despite mandates’ consequences that range from weekly testing to suspension to termination — even though the virus is now the leading cause of U.S. law enforcement line-of-duty deaths.

According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, 132 members of law enforcement agencies are known to have died of COVID-19 in 2021. In Florida alone last month, six people affiliated with law enforcement died over a 10-day period.

Despite the deaths, police officers and other first responders are among those most hesitant to get the vaccine and their cases continue to grow. No national statistics show the vaccination rate for America’s entire population of first responders but individual police and fire departments across the country report figures far below the national rate of 74% of adults who have had at least one dose.

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