As for the sheriff himself, he told FOX 13 that as soon as he became eligible, he got the vaccine.
"I have seen us politicize this horrible event over the last year and a half," Sheriff Grady Judd explained during an interview on Good Day Tampa Bay. "I have seen the bloggers put out false information and I tell everyone, ‘Yes it’s a personal decision whether or not you take the vaccine, but talk to your doctor.’ I talked to mine and I talked to my friends who are doctors and every one of them immediately said take the vaccine."
And that’s what he did. Last month, he said he was directly exposed to COVID-19 four times within three weeks.
"One of the four died. The second of the four is still in the hospital, very seriously ill. There were two other exposures," Sheriff Judd said. "I can tell you this. It’s real. It’s not a joke. It’s not a political position. It’s not something to made fun of on social media."
"So, it is a personal decision," he added, "but you know, I choose life and I choose to be healthy, and I hope everyone does as well."
The Polk County deputy who died recently – 32-year-old Christopher Broadhead – battled COVID-19 for weeks. While Sheriff Judd didn’t want to publicize the deputy’s vaccination status, it served as a dark reminder of the ramifications of the pandemic.
"We are all devastated by this. He was a very energetic deputy, been with us for over a decade. Worked everything from patrol to homicide and was just a tremendous individual. A tremendous father," he said. "He left behind three stepchildren and a 1- and 2-year-old baby. They never really got to know their father very well before he passed away. It’s very sad."
He hopes that Broadhead’s untimely death serves as motivation for others to get vaccinated.
"I can tell you I’ve done my research. I think overwhelmingly you’re safer with the vaccine than without the vaccine, and I highly encourage it," the sheriff offered. "But talk to your doctor. Talk to the scientists. I am grateful for the people that created this vaccine to save lives and make us all better and I think we should all take advantage of that."
The sheriff emphasized that he won’t mandate the vaccine at the agency. No other local first-responder agencies have mandated it either.
"I have this passion about the fact that the government’s way too up in our business already," Judd stated. "There are things that are our responsibility as individuals. I encourage it. I strongly encourage. But I’m not going to mandate. That’s a personal decision about how you treat yourself."
At the sheriff’s office, there are about 2,000 employees, Judd explained, and currently, about 50 are out sick due to COVID-19 and roughly 10 are awaiting test results.
However, the sheriff said it is not impacting the services they provide.
"You know, I have 50 people on vacation at any given time during the year, so we have to rearrange some schedules," Judd said. "There’s a small amount of extra overtime but services are not being compromised at all, we’re still game on, 24/7."