A 24-year veteran of the Honolulu Police Department who faced termination over his decision to decline the COVID-19 vaccine got inoculated last week to continue serving his community.
HPD Cpl. Mark Kutsy, 48, in an interview with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, said he got the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine last week and returned to duty Tuesday in District 7.
Kutsy, who came to Honolulu as a United States Marine and joined HPD two weeks after finishing his USMC commitment, evaluated the risks of serious illness or death resulting from the vaccine, which were low, versus ending his HPD career a year or so shy of when he planned to retire. He had about two weeks to figure it out, he said.
Kutsy, who served 16 years with the Hawaii Air National Guard while working as a police officer, said he is a “very open minded person” and understands why people, like Hawaii’s elderly who live with underlying conditions, benefit from getting the vaccine.
“It was a very big, difficult decision. Of course I had a lot to lose, and that’s why I was taking it day by day, to weigh out my options and not make a hasty decision,” said Kutsy, in an interview with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “I’m a very logical person, even though I still don’t agree with getting vaccinated…I had to take the lesser of two evils. Knowing that there was no short term change in my favor, I decided to get vaccinated to save my career.”
Applying for a medical or religious exemption was suggested but Kutsy said no. Despite identifying as a Christian, he did not feel his personal beliefs warranted an exemption and wanted to remain true to himself.
He previously declined the vaccine based on his health history and personal judgment, telling the Star-Advertiser on Sept. 8 that he decided not to get inoculated because he had not gotten sick in six years or had the flu in two decades. Last year, Kutsy followed state and federal rules during two trips to the mainland and used personal protective equipment, and took every precaution while working 100-plus-hour weeks during the initial outbreak of COVID-19 on Oahu.
“I must be doing something right since I very rarely get sick. I still feel that my chances would have been better off, if possible to not get vaccinated,” said Kutsy on Tuesday. “These are my own beliefs, knowing my body and what I’ve done in the last year and half since COVID started.”
Kutsy said his wife, who is vaccinated, did not experience side effects. After he got the shot last week, he had a fever of 103.8, sweats and chills for two days.
“On the second night it just went away,” he said. “I used to get like that in the military whenever I got the flu shot. My wife, she was fine.”
As of Sept. 7, 255 police officers, 101 firefighters, 80 water safety workers and 23 emergency medical technicians and mobile emergency care specialists cited religion or a medical condition as reasons they could not accept a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the city Department of Human Resources.
Requests for exemptions will be honored.
About 78% of police officers, 86% of firefighters and 71% percent of lifeguards and paramedics are vaccinated, according to the city.
The city’s policy does not allow weekly testing for workers who decline to be vaccinated and are not also exempt for a religious or medical reason where the state mandate does. Kutsy had said that he was willing to abide by the state’s mandate and test weekly rather than get vaccinated.
“There comes a time in your life to take a stand for what you really believe in. I just felt I was here to tell my story, for people wanting a choice for themselves,” said Kutsy. “It just should be freedom of personal choice.”
In October 2016, Kutsy and Officers Nicole Amano, Dillon Keaney, and Aaron Washington Jr. received Certificates of Merit for their assistance in a domestic violence case, according to HPD. The officers responded to several 911 calls reporting an argument at a Honolulu residence. The caller reported that her husband had injured her and her children. Upon arrival, the officers saw a man armed with a kitchen knife and persuaded him to drop the weapon. The man surrendered and Kutsy and the other officers then provided first aid to the injured occupants of the home.
“The officers’ quick response resulted in the apprehension of the suspect and prevented further injury to the victims,” according to an HPD description of the award.