WINTER HAVEN, Fla. - When Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd has something to say, he never pulls any punches -- especially on something as important as COVID-19.
His agency just lost one of their own to the virus. Veteran deputy Christopher Broadhead, a father of five, succumbed to COVID-19 after being hospitalized for weeks.
"This virus is real and it is deadly, and Christopher is the poster child for it," Sheriff Judd said. "He was only 32 years old and healthy and now not with us anymore."
Judd did not say if Broadhead was vaccinated.
"I am not comfortable with releasing medical information, but the overwhelming majority of the people in the hospital with COVID are not vaccinated," he offered.
But Judd was eager to discuss his own vaccination.
"My wife and I got the vaccination on day one when we were eligible," he said. "I had four direct exposures in a three-week period. One of the people I was exposed to sat right in that chair. He’s currently in the hospital in serious condition. Another one that I sat next to, the week before that, has died."
"Listen to the doctors, don't listen to the politicians; get your vaccine," he continued. "It is a sad set of circumstances that, from the president on down, we have politicized this very dangerous disease. We need to follow the doctors, the scientists, who have spent their entire lives preparing for and saving people’s lives."
Judd said he hopes to lead by example – not by mandate.
"That’s a personal decision. The government or business does not have any right to get into your personal business," Judd said. "I absolutely, unequivocally will not mandate the vaccine. Period. I think that's government overreach."
No other local first-responder agencies require employees to be vaccinated. And while the only way they know someone has not been vaccinated is if the employee volunteers that information, they have some rough estimates.
In Hillsborough, it appears that about half the fire-rescue employees are not vaccinated. In Polk, it’s closer to two out of three.
According to Judd, about 50 PCSO employees have tested positive for the virus, and five are currently hospitalized, with one on a ventilator.
For them, and so many other unvaccinated first responders, Judd has this advice.
"If you didn’t have motivation before to get the vaccination, I hope that Christopher’s untimely death will give you the motivation," he added.