British Columbia

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

Paramedics will be vaccinated stating at the end of January, but firefighters are among first responders not currently included in B.C.'s COVID-19 vaccination priority groups. 

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

Immunizations for B.C.'s thousands of paramedics will begin at the end of the month, according to Ambulance Paramedics of B.C. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

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.

Firefighters are among first responder groups not currently included in B.C.'s COVID-19 vaccination priority group. The B.C. Firefighters Association (BCFA) is lobbying government for that to change. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

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.

Teachers hopeful they'll be added

B.C.'s teachers are also waiting to find out if they'll be added to the priority groups.

B.C. Teachers' Federation president Teri Mooring said she expects they'll be placed in the second tier of the priority list — a list that also includes community-based seniors and provincial correctional facilities.

"My understanding is that we will be added," Mooring told CBC News. "Teachers are frontline workers, and as far as we're concerned, they're working in situations that aren't as safe as they should be."

Mooring says they're expecting more details on the vaccination plan for teachers later this week.

Officials are expecting 792,000 doses of vaccine by March and are hoping to provide at least one dose to 550,000 people in that same time frame.

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