Police officers and firefighters often find themselves on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic but they may not be at the front of the line to get vaccinated against the virus.
Vaccine distribution guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is that health care personnel and long-term care facility residents are in the first tier of phase one vaccination, while first responders like police and firefighters aren’t until the second tier.
Rich MacKinnon, the President of the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts thinks it's important for public safety that firefighters across the state are included in the first tier.
“It’s very important to get our firefighters across the state vaccinated, not only for the firefighters and their safety and the safety of their families, but for the safety of the public,” he said.
Further muddying the waters is that Emergency Medical Services are listed under tier one, but about half of all EMTs in Massachusetts work out of fire departments.
“We are the gatekeepers to the health care system, and more of us in our daily efforts are responding to what we would consider an uncontrolled scene,” said Chief Michael Winn with the Centerville/Osterville/Marstons Mills Fire Department, who’s also the First Vice President of the Fire Chiefs Association of Massachusetts.
MacKinnon said, “So there may be some interpretation that we will be included in that health care or health provider category.”
Vaccine Distribution in Massachusetts
The final say is up to the interpretation of each state.
That’s why the major fire services organizations teamed up to write letters to governors and public health departments hoping they will agree all first responders are an extension of health care personnel.
Chief Winn said, “We’re all seeing the uptick in COVID cases, and as we begin to lose responders to quarantining or actually a COVID positive, our workforce becomes smaller and smaller, and so access to that vaccine first would be really, really helpful.”
The state is preparing to vote on and submit its plan for the first phase of COVID-19 vaccine distribution to the CDC on Friday.