CAMDEN, N.J. — No one thought Frank Talarico Jr. was going to live. Not his doctors, his nurses or his wife, a physician assistant who works part time at the Camden, N.J., hospital where he spent 49 days fighting to survive Covid-19.
A 47-year-old police sergeant, he was not vaccinated against the coronavirus. Unconvinced of the vaccine’s merits, he figured he was young and fit enough to handle whatever illness the virus might cause.
He was wrong.
“If it’s an eye opener for somebody — so be it,” Sergeant Talarico said recently at his home in Pennsauken, N.J., about five miles northeast of Camden. He plans to get the vaccine as soon as the doctors he credits with saving his life at Virtua Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital give him final medical clearance.
“If I was vaccinated,” he said, “I have to think I wouldn’t have gotten as sick as I did.”
Though police work inherently carries with it the possibility of violent or lethal encounters, for the last two years Covid-19 has been the leading cause of death for law enforcement officers in the United States.
When Covid vaccines were first offered in December 2020, law enforcement officers — frontline workers who, like doctors and nurses, are required to interact closely with people in crisis — were prioritized for shots that have since been proven to significantly lower the risk of serious illness and death.
But over the next year, as some police unions tried to block vaccine mandates, at least 301 police, sheriff and correction officers died of complications from Covid-19, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, a nonprofit that tracks line-of-duty fatalities. Since January, Covid has continued to outpace other top causes of line-of-duty deaths.