As the Massachusetts State Police and its union traded assertions about the impact of a vaccine mandate on staffing, health experts stressed that troopers have a duty to protect those they serve by getting the shots.
“There’s a very valid argument to be made that these individuals are signing up to serve the public and that doesn’t always mean that they get all their choices — you do get stripped of some of your freedom in the name of public service,” said Dr. Michael Mina, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
The mandate continued to roil the law-enforcement agency Tuesday. The State Police Association of Massachusetts said Tuesday that dozens of troopers had filed resignation papers because of the rule. But a State Police spokesman maintained that only one trooper has definitively said he will retire because of the mandate.
“We are not going to speculate publicly on how many members may resign or retire,” spokesman David Procopio told the Globe. “But that should not be interpreted as a lack of preparation for any contingencies. As Governor Baker noted [Monday] the department, under the direction of Colonel Mason, is prepared to continue to fulfill our mission.”
Upping the ante, a spokesman for the union attributed the discrepancy to a matter of “semantics,” and insisted that dozens of troopers have filed 30-day notices of intent to resign due to the mandate. Some had filed their resignation papers as recently as last Thursday, Chris Keohan told State House News.
Many troopers plan on returning to municipal police departments that allow for regular COVID-19 testing instead of proof of vaccination, union officials said.
Union president Michael Cherven did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.
The State Police Association of Massachusetts, which represents 1,800 members, has reported that 80 percent of its members are vaccinated, according to court documents.
The mandate, considered one of the toughest in the nation, requires state employees to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 17 or risk being fired. A Superior Court judge last week denied a request by the State Police union to postpone the mandate to give it time to bargain and “negotiate the terms and conditions of their employment.”
Baker has said he believes public officials who “deal directly with the public on a regular basis” ought to be vaccinated and the public ought to be able to trust and believe in that.’’
Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, agrees.
“Part of the job is protecting the public, and one thing you don’t want them to be doing is infecting the people that they’re meant to protect,” Adalja said.
Mandated vaccinations, he said, would increase the resiliency of the force, minimize absenteeism from inevitable exposure and infection, and fulfill one of the number one aspects of police work: protecting the public.
“If I were employing police officers, I’d want them to be fully vaccinated,” he said. “It’s inexcusable for them not to be.”
The vaccine is “one of the best tools during a pandemic to protect the public,” he said.
If troopers quit over it, so be it, Adalja said. “The consequences can be dealt with if people do resign.”
In July, the department faced staffing shortages over a surge of as many as 300 upcoming retirements. At the time, State Police said the plan affected 46 troopers, or 2 percent of the 2,115 sworn members, though the department’s largest union said up to 48 troopers faced reassignment.
Procopio, the State Police spokesman, on Tuesday said the department was fully prepared to continue to carry out its duties with approximately 2,095 sworn members and a class of 168 recruits soon to graduate.