Ontario firefighters association defends early vaccine treatment for workers as part of Phase 1

By Lucas Casaletto

The Ontario Professional Firefighters Association (OPFFA) is setting the record straight, denying rumours that several firefighters have jumped the queue for COVID-19 vaccines and have been inoculated as a result.

OPFFA President Carmen Santoro says the province’s firefighters “are waiting patiently for their COVID-19 vaccinations,” clearing the air over a misunderstanding with regards to Ontario’s Phase 1 of its vaccine rollout.

“The OPFFA estimates that so far, only 2.5 percent of Ontario fire fighters have received a vaccine dose,” said Santoro.

“When new shipments arrive and vaccinations continue, only fire fighters who respond to medical emergencies will be rolling up their sleeves as part of Phase 1. After that, fire fighters will be eligible for vaccination in order to maintain personnel numbers required to provide the vital public safety services fire departments deliver.”

OPFFA says Canada’s government identified firefighters as workers “who are needed to maintain services essential for the functioning of society.”

The association revealed that some firefighters in one of Ontario’s fire departments did, in fact, receive a first dose, authorized by the Ministry of Health, “because 100 firefighters were sidelined due to isolation.”

Santoro says at the time, the City had to take fire vehicles out of service, which reduced public safety levels.

“Firefighters need to be on the front lines protecting Ontarians, not sidelined by COVID-19 infections and isolations,” said Santoro.

“We’re not trying to elbow our way in front of anyone, or attack other groups that are being vaccinated. Our position is that all frontline emergency workers should be vaccinated as quickly as possible and everyone should refuse to engage in rhetoric and attacks on those working in other emergency services.”

In mid-January, the province said it was focusing on vaccinating health-care workers and those in long-term care facilities, adding that people over the age of 80 will be the first priority group to receive the shot when Ontario enters the second phase of its vaccine rollout in April.

OPFFA says that because firefighters are considered first responders to medical emergencies, they are included in the Phase 1 group of vaccinations and are also deemed an essential service.

Phase 1 kicked off in December of last year and is expected to remain in place until March.

Per Ontario’s designation, early doses of the vaccine are available to:

  • Residents, staff, essential caregivers (including family caregivers), and other employees in congregate living settings for seniors
  • Health care workers, including hospital employees, staff who work or study in hospitals, and health care personnel
  • Adults in First Nations, Métis, and Inuit populations
  • Adult recipients of chronic home health care

 

“Since the start of the pandemic, over 30,000 full-time firefighters across North America have been required to isolate or quarantine due to COVID-19. Almost 4,000 have been infected with the virus, and tragically, 30 firefighters have died from duty-related COVID-19 infections, though none in Ontario,” their statement reads.

Those eligible to be vaccinated as part of Phase 2 include:

  • Older adults, beginning with those 80 years of age and older and decreasing in five-year increments over the course of the vaccine rollout;
  • Individuals living and working in high-risk congregate settings;
  • Frontline essential workers (e.g., first responders, teachers, food processing industry); and
  • Individuals with high-risk chronic conditions and their caregivers.

 

The Ford government further clarified its intentions on Tuesday, saying in light of Pfizer-BioNTech failing to deliver additional doses in the week of Jan. 25, it will now take until Feb. 10 to give the first shot to all long-term care, high-risk retirement, and First Nations elder care home residents.

Ontario will enter Phase 3planned for August when vaccines are available for every provincial resident that wishes to be treated.

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