El Paso City Council Rep. seeks action for law enforcement officers on COVID-19 vaccine eligibility

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EL PASO, Texas (KTSM)–In light of the death of an El Paso Police Department officer due to COVID-19 complications, El Paso City Council Rep. Henry Rivera is asking local lawmakers to assist in prioritizing law enforcement personnel for the COVID-19 vaccine.

“He’s family, the police department is a family within a family,” City Council District 7 Rep. Henry Rivera said.

Rep. Rivera, who served as an EPPD officer for 35 years prior to sitting on his City Council seat, reported Detective Carmelino Santiago died Monday morning due to COVID-19 complications. He said Santiago was the first active EPPD officer to die from the virus.

“Det. Santiago was not only a good person, he was a friend a neighbor, you couldn’t say enough about the guy,” Rivera said.

Rivera, a former Brother in Blue, reflected on his time working alongside Det. Santiago at the Pebble Hills Regional Command Center when both were patrol officers. He said immediately upon learning of the detective’s death, he reached out to City officials for some answers.

Rivera sent City Manager Tommy Gonzalez requesting the following:

  • How many EPPD officers have been vaccinated
  • How many have requested the vaccine or pre-registered
  • How many have contracted COVID-19
  • Number of EPPD officers who have requested to be vaccinated due to underlying health conditions

In the email thread shared with KTSM, Assistant EPPD Chief Peter Pacillas responded to some of those questions to Gonzalez. Pacillas said some officers may have gone on their own to other health providers with vaccines and EPPD was working on those numbers.

He also stated:

  • 662 total civilian and sworn EPPD have received either the Moderna or Pfizer Vaccine.
  • 2 sworn personnel have now reconsidered wanting vaccine
  • 17 Non-Sworn employees are pending the vaccine

Pacillas also added in mid-December in anticipation of the vaccine release, EPPD sent out a department-wide (civilian and sworn) on who would want the vaccine.

1,262 stated they would get the vaccine. Once the vaccine was made available, the above were the results.

The email thread stated El Paso Fire Chief Mario D’Agostino was working hard and very closely with EPPD to get vaccines for personnel.

Chief D’Agostino clarified those who received the vaccine in the police department were prioritized under 1B classifications. The chief stated in the email, “in the next phases we will be able to vaccinate everyone in the department.”

Rep. Rivera also sent an email to Congresswoman Veronica Escobar and the State Delegation asking when law enforcement officers working the frontlines will be vaccinated and informed them he is ready to assist and advocate for LEO’s to be vaccinated. 

As it stands now, those in classification 1A first-tier individuals such as EMS providers
who engage in 9-1-1 emergency services like pre-hospital care and transport are eligible for the
vaccine and as part of Phase 1B, anyone, including officers who are 65+ years old or have an underlying health condition can also receive the vaccine.

Rep. Rivera said he hopes his efforts will prompt the State to consider adding law enforcement officers to the priority.

“Hopefully the governor will change his pecking order and so forth and get the first responders, nurses and those that deal with the community to be vaccinated so they don’t have to suffer a loss like this,” Rivera said.

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