Ontario paramedics to be included in first phase of COVID-19 vaccine rollout
TORONTO -- Paramedics in Ontario hoping to get the COVID-19 vaccine are getting clarity from the province on when they will be eligible to receive the shot.
Dr. Dirk Huyer, a member of the provinces COVID-19 vaccine distribution task force, said that paramedics are in the group of health-care workers who will be immunized during the first phase which is extended into March.
“Paramedics are recognized as an area of healthcare and will be vaccinated within the first grouping,” Huyer said at a media update Wednesday, where provincial officials released its ethical framework for the vaccine as more doses become available.
Huyer told reporters that the province will continue to focus on the most vulnerable populations first.
“Those are the long-term care home staff and residents, retirement home staff and residents, recognizing assisted living -- and then as we move through the first phase there will be multiple populations that will be vaccinated at the same time, so paramedics may come at a different point with other folks that are in the healthcare field," he said.
This comes just a day after the head of the distribution task force, retired Gen. Rick Hillier told reporters on Tuesday that paramedics may have to wait until the spring due to a limited supply of the vaccine.
So far, the province has given priority to health-care workers in hospitals and long-term care homes.
“We are health-care workers, we are working beside people who should qualify for vaccine shortly,” said Dave Wakely, who is the president of the Peel Paramedic Union. “This is exactly how we wanted to be treated.”
Wakely has been vocal about the provinces vaccine rollout, arguing that paramedics should be included with front-line health-care workers.
“We are there doing the same procedures, seeing the same people, except we’re doing it in peoples houses. We’re going into houses where maybe one person with COVID called with shortness of breath, but there are also three or four family members who also have COVID,” Wakely said. “We’re going into settings that have very high viral loads and increase the risk of transmission.”
“Knowing that our paramedics will be even more protected with the vaccine as they continue helping residents during the response to COVID-19 is very encouraging. I hope that every paramedic is heartened at hearing this news as they continue to tirelessly and bravely address the needs of our community in this difficult time,” said Chief Peter Dundas of the Peel Regional Paramedic Services in a statement.
Paramedics say the onset of the pandemic the job has becoming more challenging and the risks have increased with every call.
"Pretty much everyday we’re dealing with COVID positive patients,” said Vanessa Vis, an advance care paramedic in Halton Region and the president of OPSEU Local 207. “You have no idea what you’re walking into, there is definitely an extra layer of concern that we could get it from our jobs and transmit elsewhere.”
Vis says being included in the first phase, it would decrease the risk for paramedics going into vulnerable populations institutions such as long-term care homes.
Paramedics are not the only first responders questioning the priority of the vaccine rollout.
“We’re concerned as well that we’re not higher up on priority list to get our members vaccinated and safe to continue to do that work,” said Chris Varcoe, who is the president of the Mississauga Fire Fighters Association. “Everyday we are on the frontlines, in people’s homes, attending motor vehicle accidents and in the lobby of crowded high rises when evacuations are underway and interacting with the public at medical calls.”
Varcoe said the fire department is feeling the impact of the pandemic with between 60 to 70 of his members currently ordered into self-isolation.
“It’s destabilizing our ability to have enough firefighters on the frontlines,” said Varcoe, who represents more than 600 firefighters.
Varcoe saud the Ontario Professional Firefighters Association is currently advocating with the Ministry of Health and Ministry of the Solicitor General to have firefighters made a priority to get the vaccine.
It’s still not clear how soon paramedics will be able to roll up their sleeves for the shot. The province says that will depend on logistics and those discussions are ongoing.