By CBSMiami.com Team

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Police officers are not among the groups who are next in line for vaccines. But calls are growing louder from South Florida to change that.

“A report came out, Florida’s ground zero for this new strain, this B117,” said El Portal Police Chief David Magnusson.

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That COVID variant is exponentially more contagious, which presents a whole new set of challenges.

Chief Magnusson said police officers in general are not considered front line workers – and not eligible for the COVID vaccine in tier 1-A.

He said that has to change.

“In the instance where you have to put hands on, because someone is supposed to go to jail and they decide they don’t want to. And that happens quite a bit in police work,” Magnusson said. “You there with a paper mask, whatever you got, that’s not going to stay on.”

Take the insurrection from Jan. 6. Capitol Police wore masks as they tried to fend off the riot.

But as of last week, 38 Capitol officers have COVID.

For small departments like El Portal, which only has 20 officers and a tiny office with little ability to social distance, just one officer getting COVID could be devastating.

This is case and point why Chief Magnusson said CDC guidelines need to change.

“Let’s not shut it off at police. If police want to get a vaccine, they should be able to the vaccine to protect themselves,” he said. “Because if they all go down, who’s going to be out there.”

Magnusson spoke to other departments who’ve had officers go down with COVID.

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It’s no secret, police are often put in precarious positions.

“We’re certainly the first ones responding to these calls. We just had two officers in Coral Gables go to a lady that couldn’t breathe to only find out later she was positive for COVID,” said South Florida PBA President Steadman Stahl. “So to say we’re not first responders is crazy.”

Stahl thinks it’s ludicrous police officers aren’t considered front line workers.

He’s taken his argument, as have others, to the governor’s office, pushing to get cops vaccinated.

There’s been some progress.

“We just recently met with the lieutenant governor and were able to some officers over 65 years old who are still working to get the shot,” Stahl said.

Both the chief and the union president would agree the larger departments are less affected by filling personnel voids should officers get sick.

But for the little guys, it could be crippling risking community safety.

The chief did say, in a CDC advisory letter, committee members acknowledged certain jobs could be considered essential workers, lending itself to the possibility that police officers could be next.

“They mentioned two of us: security and safety,” he said.

The PBA did say it will continue to push the governor’s office to get officers in the tier 1-A of vaccine distribution.

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Right now, they’re hearing police officers could start getting their shots by the end of February or the middle of March.

CBSMiami.com Team