(Black Press Media file photo)

(Black Press Media file photo)

Some B.C. firefighters, police left searching for leftover COVID-19 vaccines

Departments still waiting despite being identified as a priority, leadership concerned about safety

Searching for leftovers in a system that pits police and fire departments against each other, has at least one local association crying foul while many Greater Victoria first responders are frustrated and unvaccinated.

“Failure to vaccinate first responders puts the public at increased risk,” said the Central Saanich Police Association (CSPA) in a statement. Police and firefighters can’t work from home and while they take precautions, there’s no way to avoid risks, the association said. First responders cannot pre-screen those they come into contact with, use a plexiglass barrier or deny service to those with symptoms, and often work in close contact with those unwilling or unable to follow the public health protocols.

Oak Bay Police Chief Ray Bernoties agreed. He said the delay is concerning because an outbreak could have significant ramifications for public safety.

In Surrey, more than 20 police and firefighters fell ill or had to self-isolate and a similar situation could decimate a small department, the CSPA said in the statement dated April 15, adding members have tried to be patient, but with no updates from the province, they’ve opted to seek out doses wherever they can.

READ ALSO: B.C.’s COVID-19 non-essential travel ban takes effect, $575 fines approved

While a handful of members have been able to get leftover vaccines at public immunization sites, CSPA is concerned “this pits police departments and fire departments against each other while trying to vaccinate their members” and forces Island Health staff to make difficult decisions about who will receive the remaining doses.

According to the B.C. Emergency Health Services, paramedics haven’t faced the same struggles and most have already received their first dose. Paramedics were included in Phase 1 of B.C.’s vaccination framework and have been eligible since early 2021 because they were prioritized as healthcare workers who come into contact with COVID-19 patients.

Ralph Kaisers, president of the B.C. Police Association, said Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health are nearly done vaccinating first responders but the rest of the province is in the same boat as Vancouver Island. While not all protected, police are being asked to manage gathering violations and enforce travel bans.

READ ALSO: Flawed system leaves 19-year-old starving for weeks at Victoria hospital

In a statement on April 21, Island Health said first responders are the first priority in the workplace vaccination program and will be notified when their turn comes as it’s a provincial decision.

In Victoria, Fire Chief Paul Bruce said his department is still waiting for information from Island Health regarding a vaccination plan and the lack of communication is a source of stress for members. About a quarter of the fire suppression unit has received leftover vaccines and the department has had one positive case of COVID-19.

Bruce is having a hard time understanding the logic of offering the AstraZeneca vaccine to anyone over the age of 40 – some of whom could work from home – when first responders haven’t been protected.

While the Sidney Fire Department has been lucky to have about 80 per cent of staff get their first doses at the Mary Winspear Centre, Fire Chief Brett Mikkelsen echoed the concerns raised by those still waiting for vaccines. He said it’s vital for first responders to receive the extra layer of protection – for their safety and mental health.

Following Sidney’s lead, North Saanich Fire Chief John Trelford requested his team be notified of any leftover vaccines at the Mary Winspear Centre. So far, five members have received a first dose – the Central Saanich Fire Department has also managed to get a few members vaccinated at the facility.

Trelford is concerned about potential COVID-19 exposures – especially as his department is staffed by volunteers.

In Oak Bay, Fire Chief Darren Hughes said as of April 21, five staff members had received a first dose through other streams, including the AstraZeneca age-based distribution through pharmacies.

READ MORE: Saanich firefighters not prioritized for COVID-19 vaccine despite working on frontlines

On Tuesday, Saanich Asst. Deputy Chief Rob Heppell told Black Press Media that the Saanich Fire Department had yet to hear when members would be vaccinated outside of the age-based program.

Health authorities are targeting areas where there’s a high incidence of COVID-19 and the department has been fortunate in that there have been no exposures among members, Heppell said.

In Esquimalt, all but four firefighters had been vaccinated by April 21, but Tara Zajac, Esquimalt manager of communications, said those members are expected to receive their doses soon.

West Shore fire chiefs said in a joint statement they were pleased to hear that earlier in the week, the provincial health officer had recognized the need to get all B.C. first responders vaccinated.

“This is vitally important for our members to receive the protection needed to perform our duties and to continue delivering our services to the community,” they said, adding the departments are eagerly awaiting confirmation regarding the timeline for mass vaccination of first responders.


 

Do you have a story tip? Email: vnc.editorial@blackpress.ca.

Follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like us on Facebook.

CoronavirusGreater VictoriaWest Shore

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

FILE - In this April 19, 2021, file photo, Keidy Ventura, 17, receives her first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in West New York, N.J. States across the country are dramatically scaling back their COVID-19 vaccine orders as interest in the shots wanes, putting the goal of herd immunity further out of reach. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
5 more deaths, 131 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health over the weekend

Those 18-years and older in high-transmission neighbourhoods can register for the vaccine

Rotary Club of Salmon Arm president Norm Brown talks about the work the city’s Rotary Clubs do for the community during a Rotary 75th Anniversary event at the Blackburn Park picnic shelter on Saturday, May 8, 2021. (Lachlan Labere-Salmon Arm Observer)
Salmon Arm Rotarians mark 75th anniversary

Flags placed around Blackburn Park picnic shelter for video shoot

RCMP (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
High-risk takedown on Highway 1 following Anglemont shooting

Upon further investigation, the vehicle and its occupants were not associated with the shooting

Police watchdog find Salmon Arm RCMP have no involvement in head-on collision. (File photo)
Police watchdog finds Salmon Arm RCMP not involved in Highway 1 crash

Woman seriously injured on April 22 after head-on collision

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

Vancouver Canucks goaltender Thatcher Demko (35) makes a save on Winnipeg Jets’ Nate Thompson (11) during second period NHL action in Winnipeg, Monday, May 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade
Vancouver Canucks see NHL playoff hopes dashed despite 3-1 win over Winnipeg

Montreal Canadiens earn final North Division post-season spot

The southern mountain caribou, an iconic species for the Splatsin First Nation, is threatened with extinction, much to the dismay of the First Nation. (Province of B.C. photo)
Okanagan First Nation band concerned over dwindling caribou herd

Southern mountain caribou at risk of extinction, much to dismay of Splatsin First Nation near Enderby

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
UPDATE: Winfield road open following police, coroner investigation

Pelmewash Parkway closure near Highway 97 connection

Kelowna resident Sally Wallick helped rescue a kayaker in distress a week and a half ago. (Sally Wallick/Contributed)
VIDEO: Kelowna woman rescues capsized kayaker in Okanagan Lake

Sally Wallick is asking people to be prepared for the cold water and unpredictable winds

The B.C. legislature went from 85 seats to 87 before the 2017 election, causing a reorganization with curved rows and new desks squeezed in at the back. The next electoral boundary review could see another six seats added. (Black Press files)
B.C. election law could add six seats, remove rural protection

North, Kootenays could lose seats as cities gain more

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is investigating the shooting of an Indigenous woman in the Ucluelet First Nation community of Hitacu. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. First Nation wants ‘massive change’ after its 3rd police shooting in less than a year

Nuu-chah-nulth woman recovering from gunshot wounds in weekend incident near Ucluelet

Nurse Gurinder Rai, left, administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Maria Yule at a Fraser Health drive-thru vaccination site, in Coquitlam, B.C., on Wednesday, May 5, 2021. The site is open for vaccinations 11 hours per day to those who have pre-booked an appointment. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID vaccine bookings to open for adults 40+, or 18+ in hotspots, across B.C.

Only people who have registered will get their alert to book

Most Read