First responders, teachers still waiting for COVID-19 vaccination plan

First responders, teachers still waiting for COVID-19 vaccination plans

Paramedics will be vaccinated starting at the end of January; firefighters not on first priority list

They’re the first people to arrive when there’s a health emergency, but when it comes to getting the COVID-19 vaccine, many first responders are still waiting.

Firefighters are among first responders not currently included in B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccination priority groups. The B.C. Firefighters Association (BCFA) is lobbying government for that to change.

“We’re an all-hazard response, we will go into virtually any environment to assist the public and we put ourselves at risk that way,” said Gord Ditchburn, BCFA president.

“Our belief is that firefighters have a priority within the community and they should be recognized for that,” he said.

Ditchburn says conversations with public health are ongoing, but so far it’s unclear if the province’s more than 4,200 firefighters will be added to the priority group.

As of Wednesday, 33,665 people in B.C. have been vaccinated, with distribution limited to frontline workers, hospital patients, long-term care staff and residents and remote Indigenous communities.

Paramedics added

Immunizations for B.C.’s thousands of paramedics will begin at the end of the month, according to Ambulance Paramedics of B.C. (APBC). Paramedics were added to the province’s first groupings in late December, after they were initially left out.

President Troy Clifford says he applauds the work done by public health officials, but now concerns are beginning to mount over logistics.

“We’ve been asking the question for some time now, how [are we] going to vaccinate 4,500 paramedics across B.C. in some very remote and rural communities,” he said. “That’s coming up fast — the end of January.”

Clifford says first responders are among the highest risk workers when it comes to COVID-19 exposure. If workers are exposed and have to isolate, it can disrupt staffing.

He says the APBC has been pushing the Provincial Health Services Authority — one of the main bodies in B.C. responsible for distribution — for details on how the rollout will unfold.

“It’s a pretty tight timeline … the logistics are very challenging for our demographic and our workforce, considering a lot of those communities, 75 per cent of them, are on-call members not necessarily working every day,” he said.