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4,300 isolations: Union says Edmonton firefighters should be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccine

Click to play video: 'Alberta announces expansion of COVID-19 vaccine rollout to include paramedics, emergency responders' Alberta announces expansion of COVID-19 vaccine rollout to include paramedics, emergency responders
WATCH (Jan. 11): Health Minister Tyler Shandro announces Alberta will expand its COVID-19 rollout requirements to include paramedics and emergency responders – Jan 11, 2021

Out of 1,300 Edmonton firefighters represented by the union, 55 have tested positive COVID-19 and there have been more than 4,300 isolations due to exposure, the Edmonton Fire Fighters’ Union (EFFU) said.

In a Monday news release, the union said its members should be prioritized for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Read more: The ethics of vaccine rollout: Who should be in Alberta’s Phase 2?

The EFFU it was happy the province included health-care workers — and later, paramedics and Emergency Medical Responders — in Phase 1 of the Alberta rollout.

Click to play video: 'Paramedics, EMS added to the Alberta’s COVID-19 vaccine prioritization list' Paramedics, EMS added to the Alberta’s COVID-19 vaccine prioritization list
Paramedics, EMS added to the Alberta’s COVID-19 vaccine prioritization list – Jan 11, 2021

However, as supply grows, the union wants to see essential front-line workers, like firefighters, receive the vaccine.

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“While the majority of our members provide medical first response service, we are not designated as Emergency Medical Responders, thereby excluding us from prioritized vaccination lists,” the union said.

Having so many members have to isolate due to exposure has “created challenges in maintaining proper staffing levels,” the union said, and it’s worried the rise of variant cases will strain staffing even further.

Read more: Alberta paramedics, emergency medical responders eligible for COVID-19 vaccines

In the news release, the EFFU said it contacted Health Minister Tyler Shandro on March 3, asking that firefighters be included earlier in the vaccination rollout.

“To date, we have not received a response from the minister or his office,” the union said.

“EFFU, police, and other first responders are left wondering if and when the government of Alberta will act to protect our essential emergency workers so they remain available to respond.”

Click to play video: 'Alberta identifies health conditions eligible for COVID-19 vaccination in Phase 2B' Alberta identifies health conditions eligible for COVID-19 vaccination in Phase 2B
Alberta identifies health conditions eligible for COVID-19 vaccination in Phase 2B – Mar 15, 2021

Last week, Alberta police pushed the province to expand Phase 2 “to include front-line first responders.”

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Read more: Alberta police, community physicians ask to be considered for COVID-19 vaccine priority

The Edmonton Police Association said members have been diligent with protecting themselves from potential exposure but still, 139 members have either contracted COVID-19 or have had to isolate due to public interactions.

Click to play video: 'Hinshaw clarifies eligibility for Phase 2C of Alberta’s COVID-19 vaccination plan' Hinshaw clarifies eligibility for Phase 2C of Alberta’s COVID-19 vaccination plan
Hinshaw clarifies eligibility for Phase 2C of Alberta’s COVID-19 vaccination plan – Mar 15, 2021

Some Alberta community physicians also wrote to the premier and health minister, asking that they be included in Phase 2A of the vaccination rollout.

“It is imperative that the government prioritize COVID-19 vaccinations for the approximately 11,000 Alberta community care physicians and their clinic staff,” reads the letter, sent March 2 from the group Alberta Doctors for Patients.

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At her news conference on Tuesday, Hinshaw acknowledged many essential workers could benefit from the vaccine. However, given the limited supply, Alberta has been making “difficult decisions” based on those at the highest risk for severe outcomes — hospitalization or death — and those in settings prone to explosive outbreaks and quick spread from one case to many.

“We know there are other occupations… that will benefit from the vaccine and all Albertans will have an opportunity to receive vaccine within the coming months.

Click to play video: 'Hinshaw says Phase 2 COVID-19 vaccination eligibility is not about people’s ‘value to society’' Hinshaw says Phase 2 COVID-19 vaccination eligibility is not about people’s ‘value to society’
Hinshaw says Phase 2 COVID-19 vaccination eligibility is not about people’s ‘value to society’ – Mar 16, 2021

“But what we’re doing in Phase 2 is we’re working to prevent those highest risk outcomes and we’re also making sure we’re minimizing the chance of explosive outbreaks with very, very significant spread in a short period of time,” she said.

“The phases are about allocating a limited supply of vaccine. So if there are individuals or groups that are added, then essentially those groups would be displacing others who are at high risk.”

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Hinshaw said Tuesday that decisions have not been made yet about whether Phase 2D or Phase 3 will include some kind of prioritization based on at-risk jobs.

“This isn’t about the value that people provide to society,” she said. “This isn’t about how we’re assessing different groups and the work they do.

“What we’re doing is we’re looking at risks of widespread outbreak, risk of hospitalization and death and we’re focused on preventing those most severe outcomes and then we’ll be moving to that broad population, prevention of spread across the whole population.”

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