Simcoe County paramedics are waiting with anticipation to get their COVID-19 shots.
Their call for the inoculation is supported by their employer. And Simcoe-Muskoka's medical officer of health, Dr. Charles Gardner, says they are part of the priority group and he hopes that they will soon be included.
“Even though we’re the ones that have the initial contact with patients, we’re the ones entering their homes, we’re transporting them to the hospital, it’s just another example of the government not considering us front-line workers,” said Cory Schepers, an advanced care paramedic who is president of OPSEU Local 303 that represents paramedics in Simcoe County as well as Rama and Beausoleil First Nations. “By doing this job, we do have the close contact and we do have the exposure of the risk.
“We want to know when and why we haven’t received it yet," he added.
Schepers said paramedics in the surrounding areas — York, Dufferin, Peel, Toronto — are getting access to the vaccine, but it hasn’t found its way into the arms of paramedics just north of those areas.
Schepers said his members are concerned and some want access to the vaccine immediately.
He said he’s been in constant contact with management and on Monday emailed the five MPPs in the local coverage area.
“I’m just being told that the health unit does not have the numbers it needs to include us at this time,” he said. “The County of Simcoe and our management team has been heavily advocating for the paramedics of Simcoe County to gain access to the vaccine as well.”
Dr. Gardner said the 8,100 doses that have been administered locally since the program started Dec. 22 focuses on the priority groups identified by the provincial government and efforts to include more people are ongoing.
“Certainly, we’ve had a lot of inquiry about groups who would be next. There’s a lot of interest among health-care providers who are not in those facilities… There’s certainly been a lot of questions whether paramedics should immunize and, in my opinion, those are all high-priority groups to receive immunization,” he said during a call with local media Tuesday.
“We are planning to be able to provide them with immunization once we have enough of it, once we finish with protecting the residents, the staff of the long-term care facilities, the retirement homes and ensuring there’s vaccine for other health-care workers and hospitals," Gardner added.
It’s a matter of working with the available supply, Gardner said. And as the vaccine becomes more plentiful, the groups targeted for vaccination will be broadened,
He said the “intense desire” for vaccinations and keeping up with expectations has been one of the challenges that has emerged since the rollout began three weeks ago.
He pointed to paramedics as a priority group that needs to be included and says it is coming.
“We certainly take very seriously their need to be vaccinated and are getting ourselves ready to do so,” Gardner said,
In an emailed statement, Chief Andrew Robert of the County of Simcoe Paramedic Services was supportive of both the paramedics’ needs and the health unit’s efforts to get the vaccine out.
“As high-risk, front-line health-care workers, the sooner paramedics can be vaccinated, the better. Paramedics are in the community and providing health care to vulnerable residents on a daily basis,” Robert says in the statement. “In their expanding roles during the pandemic, they are also providing further testing and support in long term care homes, shelters and regional vaccination clinics.
"Furthermore, paramedics are transporting COVID positive patients in between hospitals to help maintain ICU (intensive care unit) capacities," he added.
The need intensifies, Robert noted, as the outbreaks grow and community spread of COVID-19 increases.
Schepers said there’s been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 for Simcoe County paramedics, adding that they’ve had good access to personal protective equipment (PPE) and are not running out.
“From our perspective, it’s just a big frustration that we keep getting shoved down the list and not considered front-line workers and not a priority,” he said.