Medical first responders, including EMTs, not first in line for COVID-19 vaccine

Coronavirus

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — As Florida prepares to roll out the first round of COVID-19 vaccines, the state will have to prioritize who gets it first. Pending approval in coming weeks, Gov. Ron DeSantis expects to have two million doses ready to go by the end of the year.

DeSantis will make inoculating nursing home residents his priority, followed by health care workers. The CDC also recommends vaccinating health care workers and long term care facilities first.

But just because health care workers will be one of the top priorities, not everyone who works with patients falls into that category. That includes EMS personnel, including paramedics and EMTs, who spent every day on the frontline of the pandemic but will not be in the front of the line for the vaccine.

Under CDC vaccine recommendations, firefighters including EMTs and fire medics are classified as first responders, not health care workers, even though medics treat COVID-19 patients and in some cases are even the first medical professionals patients come into contact with. Guidelines show they’ll likely be second or even third in line to receive the vaccine.

The International Association of Firefighters, in conjunction with other firefighting organizations, is urging governors and other state leaders to classify firefighters and EMS personnel as a top-tier priority. In a letter, those workers are described as the “first link” in the COVID-19 response, treating and transporting patients, not to mention the risk of exposure during other emergencies.

“We don’t have the opportunity to screen people prior to just rushing in,” explained Tampa Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Mark Bogush.

The domino effect of exposure can be severe, Bogush says. COVID-19 infections and exposures have, at times, forced entire firehouses into quarantine, leaving other firefighters and medics working overtime to pick up the slack.

“I would like to see the firefighters at Tampa Fire Rescue protected as soon as they possibly can,” Bogush said. “But I know not everybody can get the vaccine at the same time.”

The CDC’s recommendations are just that: recommendations. States ultimately can decide how they roll out the vaccine.

8 On Your Side asked a spokesperson for Gov. DeSantis if Florida will consider paramedics “health care workers” during vaccine distribution. We are still waiting to hear back.

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