Who should get the shot first?

We’re actually way too far along for that question, nevertheless it’s still the focus of much discussion across the country and around the world. At this writing, coronavirus has killed a jaw-dropping 475,000 people in the United States in less than a year’s time. It continues to cut a deadly swath through our lives, and most of us are still clamoring for the protection offered by a vaccine.

The state of California says anyone 65 or older as well as educators, food service and agricultural workers, and emergency services personnel are now eligible to receive one of the approved COVID-19 vaccines. Previously, it allowed health care workers and those living in long-term care facilities to be vaccinated. By this week, more than 121,000 shots have been administered in San Mateo County, a subset of 6 million shots given across California. Of course, there are 40 million Californians, and most will require two shots. The math shows we have a long way to go.

And last week, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors agreed to the state recommendation letting farmworkers, teachers and police officers get in line now.

Pacifica Police Chief Dan Steidle may have had something to do with that. In his capacity as president of the San Mateo County Police Chiefs and Sheriff Association, he recently sent a letter to county public health officials urging that his membership receive priority for vaccination. We whole-heartedly agree.

We ask a lot from the men and women who wear a badge. That is always true, but perhaps never more true than it is right now. Their everyday work puts them at heightened risk for contracting the virus. Cops are often the first on the scene when someone needs medical attention. They deal with uncooperative people who may or may not take precautions like wearing a mask and washing their hands. It is not always easy to practice social distancing in police work. And these difficulties are taking a toll. According to Steidle’s letter, 163 county law enforcement employees have caught a case of COVID-19 in the last 11 months and 500 have been quarantined. At least twice, the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office has had to backfill officers to other local police departments that couldn’t staff all their shifts as a result of coronavirus in their ranks.

Police officers aren’t the only ones who deserve priority, of course. We learned last spring just how “essential” were many of the people we take for granted every day. Teachers, grocery clerks, bus drivers, mail carriers, gas station attendants. There is a very long list of people who very much deserve to be vaccinated because of their service to community, if for no other reason.

Getting to all of us will take time. We are learning how woefully unprepared we were for a pandemic. We have underfunded public health. Producing enough vaccine fast enough to outrace variants of the virus has become a logistical nightmare. We shouldn’t have to make life-and-death decisions about priorities like this on the fly. But here we are.

We’re glad to see cops make the list. San Mateo County police officers and Sheriff’s deputies should go to the front of the line, not because they need it any more than others, but because we need them so badly.

 — Clay Lambert

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