The City of Calgary has determined its firefighters are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine despite the omission from the latest phase in the province’s vaccine rollout.
A letter from the City of Calgary, obtained by Global News, was sent to individual front-line firefighters and is meant to be presented to vaccination clinics and pharmacies.
It asks that firefighters be considered eligible to receive their COVID-19 vaccine under Phase 2C of the province’s vaccine rollout.
“As a member of the City of Calgary Fire Department, they provide services directly to clients in the community for Alberta Health Services under the Medical First Responder (MFR) program,” the letter reads.
The letter is signed by CFD Chief Steve Dongworth and Community Services general manager Katie Black.
“Our front-line firefighters actually meet the criteria of Phase 2C, regardless of whether they are named or not as a group,” Dongworth said.
On April 16, AHS notified member agencies of the MFR program that employers are responsible for determining if their employees meet the current vaccine rollout eligibility, city officials told Global News.
The CFD is a member of the MFR program. Dongworth said the letter was sent to firefighters as soon as the decision was made to deem them eligible.
“The City of Calgary was told by AHS that they will not define who is a medical first responder and they’d leave it to the city to do that, so the city did,” Mayor Naheed Nenshi said. “Because firefighters respond to 30,000 medical calls per year, every firefighter is a medical first responder, so they are eligible and they should go ahead and book their vaccine.”
However, Alberta Health said there has been no change to vaccine eligibility for firefighters under the current rollout plan.
“We recognize that firefighters and many others would benefit from receiving the vaccine, and we want to offer it to them as soon as possible,” Alberta Health spokesperson Tom McMillan said in a statement to Global News.
McMillan said that due to a limited vaccine supply available in Alberta, the rollout will continue to target people who are most at risk of severe outcomes and those who work directly with them.
Although firefighters are not listed in the vaccine rollout, McMillan said that some may be eligible under the current criteria.
“All paramedics who provide direct care, including emergency medical responders, are eligible for the vaccine,” McMillan said. “Some were made eligible in Phase 1, and the remaining became eligible under Phase 2C. Some firefighters will fall under these categories.”
McMillan said that if the person has a role that qualifies as a health-care worker and provides in-person, direct patient care, then they are eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine in Alberta.
“We go to the most critical calls, (and) every member of that crew is involved in patient care, particularly if the paramedics haven’t arrived, which is quite often the scenario,” Dongworth said. “We believe strongly in the safety of our staff as well as the safety of the community that interact with them.”
Front-line police officers and provincial sheriffs are expected to be included in the rollout in the coming weeks.
According to Dongworth, there were between 50 and 60 firefighters unable to work due to mandated isolation or a COVID-19 infection just two weeks ago.
Earlier this year, city council moved to advocate vaccine prioritization for its “critical infrastructure workers” including front-line staff and firefighters.
Nenshi said the omission of firefighters from Phase 2C is “a big mistake” and said he is continuing to advocate to expand the eligibility to more workers with a higher risk of exposure like bus drivers.
“It is logical for us to really focus on people who are at greater risk of infection, and that includes bus drivers, grocery store workers, and of course, it includes teachers, and the province needs to move forward on this,” Nenshi said.
According to Alberta Health, the vaccine rollout will be expanded as more doses arrive in the province.