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IAFF Letter Calls for COVID Vaccine Priority for Firefighters and EMS

WASHINGTON, DC—An official letter released Nov. 23, 2020 by the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) calls on state governors to give firefighters and paramedics priority access to the COVID-19 vaccine once it is released for administration to the general population.

The letter, signed by General President Harold Schaitberger, reads as below.

Dear Governors:

On behalf of the nation’s 322,000 professional firefighters and emergency medical personnel, I respectfully request that you include firefighters and emergency medical responders on the highest priority tier in your state’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan.

As you are aware, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine have recommended that first responders, including firefighters and emergency medical services personnel, be included in the initial vaccine distribution phase–phase 1(a). As stated by the Academies, reasons for protecting first responders include “the social value of maintaining emergency services, reciprocity for the assumption of additional risk by these groups, and…higher risk of acquiring infection and, potentially, transmitting the virus.”

The level of risk to responders has never been greater than it is today. More than 30,000 professional firefighters have had known exposures to COVID-19 in the course of duty, necessitating over 17,000 such personnel to quarantine or isolate. Nearly 150 professional firefighters have been hospitalized upon contracting the virus, and at least 19 have died. All this, despite PPE use and rigorous decontamination procedures, makes vaccinating firefighters and emergency medical personnel all the more urgent. The virus not only places the lives and health of responders at risk, it also poses a risk to the larger community as well as to firefighters responding to emergencies in homes, businesses and elsewhere before they may be aware of an infection.

Adequately vaccinating firefighters and emergency medical responders will also allow such personnel to continue serving their communities during this medical crisis. Absent adequate vaccination, responders will continue to be subject to lengthy quarantines when they are exposed to COVID-19 positive individuals, imposing significant costs on local governments as they backfill positions or operate understaffed, increasing response times and negatively impacting public safety.

Again, we request you prioritize firefighters and emergency medical responders in the distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine and ensure such personnel are included in the highest priority tier in your state’s distribution plan.

We appreciate your assistance in this important matter.

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