Earlier this month, PERF surveyed our member agencies to gauge their progress in vaccinating both sworn and professional staff.

This survey was a follow-up to a December 2020 survey of PERF member agencies about their plans and expectations for the coronavirus vaccines. At the time of the first survey, only the Pfizer vaccine had received emergency use authorization from the FDA. Since then, the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have also received emergency use authorization, and all three vaccines are being distributed to eligible populations nationwide.

In the December survey, most agencies anticipated the vaccines would be available to their members by January or February. Additionally, 78% of respondents believed that more than half of their personnel would be willing to get vaccinated.

The latest survey shows that agencies are making progress in getting personnel vaccinated, but that barriers remain. Here are some key takeaways:

  • 54% of survey respondents said that more than half of their sworn personnel have been vaccinated so far, and 78% anticipate that more than half of their sworn personnel ultimately will receive the vaccine.  Similar results were found regarding professional staff members.
  • Barriers to vaccinations include both system issues, such as limited availability of vaccines in some areas, and personal decisions by some personnel to not get vaccinated for a variety of reasons.
  • Agencies are working to overcome these barriers in several ways:

--Agencies are providing information from trusted sources such as the CDC and local public health officials, and are providing employees with training about vaccinations.

--Police chiefs and sheriffs are “leading by example,” by receiving a vaccine and in some cases distributing video clips showing their vaccinations. This helps to reinforce that department leaders trust the safety and efficacy of the vaccines.

--Agencies are making it easy to receive a vaccine, in some cases by arranging for vaccination clinics, or by allowing members to get vaccinated during work hours or using overtime.

--Some agencies are offering incentives, such as gift cards or additional leave time for receiving a vaccine. Agencies are also cautioning personnel that they may not receive additional leave time if they contract COVID-19 after declining to receive a vaccine.


How the Data Were Compiled

On March 9, PERF sent a brief questionnaire to all member agencies asking about the vaccination status of personnel in their agencies. In the survey, we asked respondents to estimate the percentage of sworn and professional staff who have already been vaccinated, and the percentage that they expect to be vaccinated when the vaccines have been made available to all the employees. We also asked about barriers they are still encountering in vaccinating their personnel and how they are overcoming these challenges.

A total of 240 agencies responded to the survey by the deadline of March 16. The respondents represented 38 states and 2 Canadian provinces. Three-quarters of the respondents came from agencies of 249 or fewer sworn personnel.


Current Status of Vaccine Distribution

All but one agency that responded to the survey reported that their members have started to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, and 78% of respondents are tracking how many members of their agency are getting vaccinated.

Sworn Personnel

The majority of respondents (54%) reported that more than half of their sworn personnel had been vaccinated. 19% reported that more than 75% of their sworn personnel have received the vaccine. Just 7% of agencies reported that fewer than 25% of their sworn personnel had been vaccinated.

In general, agencies with fewer personnel reported being further along in vaccinating their sworn personnel than larger agencies.

As shown in the chart below, 33% of agencies with fewer than 50 sworn officers reported vaccinating more than 75% of their sworn personnel. Larger agencies were less likely to have reached the 75% vaccination point -- 13% of agencies with 50-249 sworn officers, 17% of agencies with 250-499 officers, and 3% of agencies with 500 or more officers.  

Of the agencies that reported that more than 75% of their sworn personnel received the vaccination, many were located in either Massachusetts (27%) or Wisconsin (11%).   


Professional Staff

Overall, agencies reported that their professional staff are not being vaccinated as quickly as their sworn personnel. 50% of respondents said that more than half of their professional staff had received the vaccine, and 26% said that fewer than one-quarter of their professional staff had been vaccinated.

Many respondents noted that professional staff were not included in the same priority “tier” as their sworn counterparts for vaccine eligibility, under state or local guidelines. As with sworn personnel, smaller agencies reported being further along in the vaccination of professional staff.  41% of agencies with fewer than 50 sworn personnel reported more than 75% of their professional staff had been vaccinated, compared with 18% from agencies with 50-249 officers, 13% from agencies with 250-499 officers, and 6% from agencies with 500 or more officers.

“Civilian staff availability is a barrier. State guidelines do not think of them as ‘first responders,’ so they don't qualify unless they meet the state's eligibility requirements such as over the age 75, then 65, then two medical issues, etc.”

 – Survey respondent from a medium-sized agency in Massachusetts


Barriers to Vaccination

Although access to the COVID-19 vaccines generally has increased in recent weeks, some agencies are still reporting barriers in getting their personnel vaccinated. About 18% of all respondents estimated that 50% or fewer of their sworn personnel would ultimately receive the vaccine, and 13% of respondents said the same for their professional staff. Barriers exist in both getting access to vaccines at an organizational level and in encouraging individuals to receive a vaccine.

Agencies reported that in some cases, state prioritization lists have prevented law enforcement agencies from receiving the vaccine in the first tier of priority access. For example, the state of Florida just recently opened vaccine access to members of law enforcement, and only for those who are 50 years old or older. Additionally, some agencies in areas where law enforcement personnel are eligible are facing a lack of vaccine supply and some disorganization in the appointments process.

“Originally the biggest barrier was the availability of appointments to get staff vaccinated.”

 - Survey respondent from a medium-sized agency in Colorado

On the personal side, agencies reported that some of their personnel are expressing vaccine hesitancy. Common barriers include:

  • Concern that there may be short- and long-term side effects to the vaccines;
  • Mistrust of the vaccines or the process by which they were developed and approved. (PERF addressed some of these concerns in its February webinar on vaccinations);
  • Younger officers/deputies who feel that they do not need to receive the vaccine due to their age and the perception that they would be unlikely to be hospitalized or die if they were to contract COVID-19; and
  • Some officers/deputies who have already contracted COVID-19 who have a general feeling that they do not need the vaccine.


“Employee apprehension appears to be the most significant barrier at this point.”

– Survey respondent from a medium-sized agency in Indiana

“We are a relatively young organization, with some members unconcerned about the consequences of contracting the virus. Additionally, approximately 25% of the organization have had COVID and are not viewing the vaccine as a necessary prophylactic measure.”

 – Survey respondent from a small agency in Wisconsin


Overcoming Vaccination Barriers

Despite the barriers, agencies responding to the survey reported a number of steps they are taking to encourage vaccination among their sworn and professional staff.


Providing information

Almost all agencies have focused on disseminating information about the vaccines in a variety of ways. Some agencies have held mandatory meetings and trainings on the vaccines, potential side effects, and why vaccines are important. Agencies are also relying on official guidance from trusted sources such as the CDC as well as information from local health partners who can directly answer questions from agency personnel. This information is distributed through email, webinars, and other means.

“We had our local medical professionals host several educational webinars on this topic. The union was involved in the scheduling and information-sharing. It’s helped tremendously.”

 – Survey respondent from a medium-sized agency in New Jersey

“We developed mandatory vaccination training based on CDC guidance for all employees.”

 – Survey respondent from a large agency in North Carolina


Leading by example

Agency leaders are also leading by example by publicly receiving the vaccine. 87% of respondents to the PERF survey (primarily chiefs and sheriffs) have personally received the vaccine, and 59% of those who have not yet received the vaccine said they plan to do so. Some agency executives received the vaccine on video that is then shown to their personnel. They wanted to demonstrate that they are not asking their personnel to do anything that they hesitated to do.

“The Chief and Deputy Chief received the vaccine to show its importance and that it is safe.”

 – Survey respondent from a medium-sized agency in Florida


Simplifying the vaccination process

Agencies are also making sure that the process of obtaining the vaccine is as easy as possible. Many noted that they have allowed their personnel to get vaccinated on work hours or to use overtime to get vaccinated. Additionally, given the challenges many individuals have faced in signing up for and getting vaccine appointments, some agencies have taken on these tasks for their employees. This is making it easier for personnel to obtain the vaccine and for agencies to better manage the impact if staff members feel ill following a vaccination.

“We provide as much information as we can about the availability of the vaccine, and the locations of the vaccine.  We also work to accommodate every employee with the logistics of getting to the clinics during work hours if needed.”

– Survey respondent from a large agency in California

“We have had open and honest communication on the topic with our staff and have answered questions as they arise.  The agency also assisted with the scheduling process for vaccinations and made sure access was available for police employees.  The Chief and Deputy Chief were very open about their experiences in receiving the shots in order to help ease anxieties over receiving the vaccination.”

– Survey respondent from a medium-sized agency in Maryland


Offering incentives

Agencies are also offering incentives to encourage personnel to receive the vaccine. For example, some agencies are allowing vaccinated personnel to be more flexible with COVID precautions,* participate in some non-mandatory training, and resume some business travel.

Others are offering financial incentives. In one agency, personnel who get vaccinated receive a $200 gift card. Some agencies are offering additional leave time if personnel receive the vaccine, or are granting them additional leave if they experience any side effects from a vaccination.

And on the other hand, some agencies have cautioned their personnel that they may not be able to receive additional sick leave time if they contract COVID-19 after turning down the opportunity to be vaccinated.

“We provide an incentive of a $200 gift card or a day off work.”

– Survey respondent from a medium-sized agency in Georgia

“We have been very flexible with providing employees who were out of the workplace related to COVID with time off without having to take their accrued sick or vacation leave.  If you were out of work related to COVID, you could work from home if your normal duties could be accomplished, or you could take what we refer to as PHE, Public Health Emergency Leave.

But once the vaccine was offered and available, employees who decline the vaccination are no longer able to use PHE and must use their personal earned leave, sick or vacation time, depending on the circumstances.”

– Survey respondent from a small agency in Virginia

*NOTE: Per recent CDC guidance, individuals who are fully vaccinated can gather with other vaccinated individuals indoors without masks or social distancing. However, fully vaccinated individuals should continue to wear masks in public and when around other individuals who are not yet vaccinated. Individuals are considered fully vaccinated 2 weeks after the second dose of the 2-dose vaccines or 2 weeks after the single-dose vaccine.


The PERF Critical Issues 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 this work.