The COVID-19 pandemic has branded 2020 with fear, grief, widespread death and suffering, unemployment, political tensions, and perhaps above all, uncertainty—uncertainty about our health, our livelihoods, and when this living nightmare is going to end. The vaccine is touted as our best hope in the fight against this pandemic; our first step in the direction toward healing and returning to normalcy. Per CDC recommendations, frontline workers, including EMS providers, should be among the first to receive vaccinations. EMS World spoke with John Sinclair, chair of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) Coronavirus Task Force and fire chief and emergency manager at Kittitas Valley Fire Rescue (Wash.), about handling the logistics and operational management of vaccine distribution to EMS agencies.
EMS World: The CDC recommends healthcare personnel, which includes EMS providers, as priority recipients for the COVID-19 vaccine. How can EMS agencies effectively communicate with their local/state government and health officials to ensure their crews receive vaccines?
John Sinclair: The vaccine will be distributed to each state and U.S. protectorate, and the state or territory will then refine their plan. EMS chiefs should be coordinating with their local health departments for the vaccination plan. The state or locality will make final decisions on what tier first responders are in. Your state EMS and fire leaders should be advocating for EMS personnel. Speaking with one voice is essential. Your state associations are a good place to start. Making sure you have established a good relationship with the local public health director is also important.
In the event that local/state officials exclude EMS from vaccinations despite CDC recommendations, what are some practical counterpoints agencies can provide to advocate for the criticality of vaccinating EMS personnel?
EMS personnel are the point of the spear for the healthcare system in the United States and Canada. The sickest of the sick are taken care of by us. If EMS personnel are not protected, then they cannot respond effectively and efficiently to other medical and traumatic calls for help. Protecting frontline workers is a priority.
If there are not enough vaccines for all EMS providers in a state or region, how should officials determine which crews get prioritized?
Those that are on the frontlines transporting the sickest patients, those with pre-existing conditions and those that are over 65 should be prioritized.
What other obstacles do you foresee in the future with vaccine distribution among emergency services personnel and how do you think they can be overcome?
We work together to overcome obstacles. The logistics of the cold supply chain are challenging. There will be mishaps with super-cold freezers, cold injuries, dry ice issues, and transportation system issues coupled with the divisive culture within our society right now and mistrust of government. We need to educate and have the trusted voices of EMS and public safety speak out. Leaders need to educate their personnel and truly lead on these issues. COVID-19 is a true disease; it is killing people. The vaccine will prevent millions of deaths. However, if people don’t trust the vaccine or the process, they won’t get the vaccine. For many it is emotional and they have listened to misinformation that they believe. We have to counter that with trusted leaders with the right information.
Considering some people are concerned about the fast-tracked development and approval of the vaccine, what encouragement would you give EMS providers if they are hesitant about receiving the vaccine?
Receiving the vaccine will be a personal choice. Here in the United States, employers are not going to require an employee to receive the vaccine. Everyone should read the safety information regarding the vaccines once published by Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Not receiving the vaccine will continue to limit travel, may require personnel to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) longer than those that receive the vaccine, and there is an increased risk to close family and friends if you do not receive a vaccine. I, for one, will receive the vaccine as soon as our local system allows. Is there a risk? Yes. There are always risks. However, in my opinion, the risk/benefit factor is in favor of getting the vaccine. This is one of those areas where it is important for EMS personnel to conduct their own research and make their own choice. However, there is a lot of disproved fake science on the internet regarding vaccines. Find a trusted source. National Institutes of Health and CDC will provide accurate and proven science.
Valerie Amato, NREMT, holds a B.A. in English and Pre-Law and is currently pursuing a Master of Public Health degree at Temple University. She is a volunteer EMT with the Philadelphia Medical Reserve Corps and Temple University EMS.