Firefighters in Airdrie are continuing to advocate to be placed higher in the queue to receive COVID-19 vaccinations in Alberta.
Although other first responders have been given placement in previous or upcoming phases, firefighters are still fighting for an advanced spot to receive the shots, according to Airdrie Professional Firefighters Association (APFA) President Matt Elgie.
“It has been quite an interesting journey going through all of this,” he said. “Despite wonderful support from the City, we still haven’t seen firefighters included alongside our fellow first responders and health-care providers.”
Elgie said what is difficult for firefighters to understand is why they haven’t been given expedited eligibility for the vaccines, even though they respond to emergencies alongside members of other agencies that are eligible, such as Emergency Medical Services personnel.
“Our firefighters have committed to public service and they all want to continue coming to work to look after the citizens we serve,” he said.
According to Elgie, local firefighters have already felt the effects of the pandemic. He said to date, more than 13 months’ worth of Airdrie firefighter labour has been lost to sick time. Speaking to one specific case, he said a firefighter in Airdrie came to work not knowing they were sick with the virus, which caused two others to become ill and others to self-isolate.
“As a result, a total of eight firefighters were unable to work during the two-week quarantine period,” he said. “That is more than 10 per cent of our department, unable to respond to emergencies.”
Elgie said what remains in terms of a decision or why the firefighters haven’t been placed on the same list as other protective services has been a guessing game. He added communication from the provincial government to firefighting associations has been minimal.
“We have been told this is about risk profile and exposure and we are at a lower risk,” he said. “We are not understanding where that information came from. We are in the same environments as other first responders.”
During her daily update on March 25, chief medical health officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw said the criteria used by the province to determine who would be vaccinated first was those who were at the highest risk. Moving forward, she said paramedics who are a part of the Phase 2B rollout are often more exposed to those who are at high risk.
“That was part of the consideration that went into ensuring those very high-risk settings had some of that wrap around protection,” she said. “When we chose Phase 2 sequencing, one of those things we were looking at were the settings that are high risk for explosive outbreaks.”
According to Hinshaw, those settings included correctional and homeless facilities along with front-line police services, who are involved with the people in those facilities frequently.
“I want to make sure that it is very clear that people who work in occupations where they are personally, potentially exposed because they work out in public, we recognize that is an issue,” she said. “I would love to give a vaccine to every Albertan and to all those who serve on that front line, because it provides an incredibly value service to our community.
“The reality is, we have a short supply of vaccine and we have focused it on those at personal high risk of severe outcomes.”
Next steps for the APFA, according to Elgie, include awaiting a decision from Health Minister Tyler Shandro.
“He had this decision sitting on his desk at some point last week,” he said. “We don’t know when that decision will be finalized, but he was going to base that decision off of the information he was getting from the sources he has contact with.”