Only 30% of St. Petersburg fire rescue first responders have gotten COVID vaccine, division chief estimates

Pinellas County

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) — Despite COVID-19 case numbers rising in Pinellas County, only a fraction of first responders in St. Petersburg have been vaccinated, according to fire officials.

City Council members learned about the low vaccination number at their meeting on Thursday morning during a presentation by St. Petersburg Fire Rescue Division Chief Ian Womack.

Council members asked Womack for a specific number.

“We have a very difficult time of putting our arms around that, as we have no mandatory recording,” the chief explained. “Our last estimate was about 30 percent.”

St. Petersburg Fire Rescue Division Chief Ian Womack addresses city council.

The approximate 30 percent vaccination rate among the first responders is compared to Pinellas County’s rate as a whole – which is 63 percent.

To city leaders, that number was a bit concerning.

“We don’t have mandates, obviously, but we’ve got to do everything we can, especially for our men and women in fire rescue, getting vaccinated just will help.”

Chief Womack believes many first responders initially did not get vaccinated because COVID-19 seemed to impact mostly older individuals. The St. Petersburg Fire Rescue staff, on average, is relatively young. Others wanted to wait until the vaccines were FDA approved.

He adds all firefighters and paramedics are required to wear personal protection equipment on every call.

“And it’s still pretty proud that in the Pinellas County system, we haven’t had one workplace exposure that’s been the result of an interaction between a clinician and a patient,” Womack said.

He and others in fire rescue leadership are hoping, with the delta variant now in play, more employees will elect to get vaccinated.

“I certainly would like to see our people protected,” Chief Womack said. “For sure, for their own wellness, but we are taking steps to keep the public safe and the community safe.”

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