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COVID-19 cases among Whistler firefighters prompt call for vaccinations

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There is a renewed call for a stepped-up vaccination program for B.C.’s essential service workers.

The municipality of Whistler, which has been a COVID-19 hot spot, has seen a spike in cases of the virus involving first responders, notably firefighters.

“We’re really concerned about all of our essential service workers, including fire, police and ambulance,”  Whistler Mayor Jack Crompton said.

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The municipality won’t reveal exactly how many of the community’s firefighters are battling COVID-19, but sources have told Global News that up to a dozen people may be infected with one person in intensive care.

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Other fire departments are also dealing with COVID-19, but not to the same degree.

Read more: ‘Possible’ link between AstraZeneca vaccine and rare blood clots, EU drug regulator says

District of North Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services says it has had only a handful of cases.

“Over the past year we’ve had four confirmed COVID cases amongst our personnel,” District of North Vancouver fire Chief Brian Hutchinson said. “Those were not transmission at work. Those were cases identified typically outside the work environment. ”

District of North Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services is advocating for an immunization program.

Whistler, which is a more isolated community, says it needs more and is calling for a community vaccination rollout similar to what has been announced for communities such as Tofino and Ucluelet.

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“We support and hope for and expect a community vaccination program for Whistler,” Crompton said.

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Last week, the province announced the closure of the Whistler Blackcomb ski resort amid new COVID-19 restrictions.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said attempts to reduce COVID-19 transmission in the ski community weren’t working and Whistler Blackcomb will be shut down until April 19. The resort then said it would not reopen for the winter season.

Read more: ‘We’re devastated’ — Whistler reeling amid ski resort closure, rise in P1 COVID-19 variant

Essential workers who aren’t in B.C.’s health-care sector were slated to get priority access to the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine as part of an immunization program separate from the province’s age-based vaccination rollout.

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Plans changed when federal officials halted the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in people under the age of 55 due to concerns over blood clots.

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Read more: Canada could give 75% of adults first vaccine jab by mid-June, NACI says

Henry said first responders are doing great work under trying circumstances, and are experiencing low rates of transmission.

“So this is the good news and we are continuing to support them and to make sure they have what they need to protect themselves,” she said.

“As soon as we have vaccine available, we will be restarting that program.”

The AstraZeneca vaccine is currently being used on people between the age of 55 and 65.

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