By Max Bowenfirstname.lastname@example.org
North Attleborough firefighters and police have formed a consortium with nearby Plainville and Seekonk to facilitate getting their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The consortium was necessary to meet the Department of Public Health (DPH) criteria. In order for a local group to request COVID vaccines for first responders they require a minimum number of 200 that needed vaccinations, according to Health Director Anne Marie Fleming. Fire Chief Christopher Coleman said that the doses were administered the week of Jan. 11 and the second round would be done in 28 days.
“We had to act fast and had a great collaboration with the three communities to pull this off and get our people vaccinated,” said Coleman.
At the Plainville Public Safety Building, clinics were held to administer doses of the Moderna vaccine. Fleming was at the clinic preparing doses and said that the vaccine was delivered by the Centers for Disease Control and can survive in a freezer for 30 days. Once removed and transferred to a refrigeration unit, they last for 12 hours, and another six more once the container is opened.
Fleming has heard from residents concerned over the safety of the vaccine, some of whom have been told misinformation about the risks.
“People are scared, it’s understandable,” said Fleming.
Jon Roy, a police officer in Seekonk, said he wasn’t nervous about getting his dose.
“We’re doing this for the public,” he said after his dose was administered.
Seekonk firefighter/paramedic Tim Goodwin was among those giving the shots, and had his own earlier in the week. He said that much has changed in his line of work, particularly how they respond to calls. In the past, first responders would enter a home for medical emergencies, but with the COVID-19 regulations, some will need to wait outside. He expects that things like PPE and face masks may become regular parts of the job, even after the vaccine becomes available to the public.
“Everything’s changed because of this,” he said.
It was a sentiment echoed by Plainville Fire Chief Justin Alexander, saying that face masks, plastic shields, and Tivek suits have become a new way of life for the department. Plainville Fire hosts a number of educational programs for the public, including CPR classes for sixth-graders, but those have had to be suspended.
“We’ve lost that connection,” said Alexander.
The roll-out of the vaccine will be done in three phases. The first, which runs from December through February, is for first responders, clinical and non-clinical healthcare workers doing direct and COVID-facing care, long-term care facilities, congregate care settings, home-based healthcare workers, and healthcare workers doing non-direct COVID-facing care.
The second phase is set to begin in February and run through April. During this phase, those 65 and older or having one comorbidity will be able to receive the vaccine. In addition, those who works in schools, transit, grocery, utility, food and agriculture, sanitation, public works, and public health workers will be eligible. The vaccine is expected to be available to the public by April.
At a recent meeting of the School Committee, District Nurse Leader Melissa Badger said that school nurses will soon receive the Moderna vaccine. In addition, rapid antigen testing is being implemented for students and faculty that have become symptomatic, and close to 900 have registered. Volunteers with Meals on Wheels are among those in the first phase of doses, due to their being in close proximity with the seniors that they visit.
Coleman said that the department had a number of firefighters go into quarantine in the early days of the pandemic, back when the virus and how it is transmitted was not well understood. Four firefighters have been confirmed to have had COVID, and Coleman said all recovered and are doing well.
“We’ve had a low number compared to other communities that have had similar impacts,” said Coleman.
When it comes to responding to calls, Coleman said a lot has had to change. He said there are two three-ring binders full of regulations the department has to follow. This includes checking with each caller to see if they have had COVID or are experiencing symptoms of the virus. Should anyone answer “yes” to that question, full PPE gear is required. Coleman said the department has a good supply of PPE, and the stations are cleaned regularly.
But, even with the vaccine now being administered to the staff, Coleman said now is not the time to be relaxing on the guidelines.
“No changes to the rules,” said Coleman. “This is great, a great step, but it’s not the time for us to let our guard down.”