First responders can sometimes be lost in the shuffle of COVID-19 concerns.
Hospital workers and those living and working in senior care facilities have, understandably, been at the forefront of thought over the last nine months.
But being a first responder during a pandemic still comes with plenty of risk. In 2020, it has meant that every call a first responder goes to brings an added layer of complication.
“You don’t know who may have the virus and who doesn’t have the virus, so you have to treat everyone the same,” said Eric Simukka, an emergency medical services training captain with Clark County Fire District 6.
This week, a small bit of hope made its way to Clark County first responders as they began to receive COVID-19 vaccinations as part of the state’s initial vaccine rollout.
PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center inoculated more than 1,000 of its staff last week.
On Monday, those vaccination efforts expanded as 47 first responders received the first of two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. On Tuesday, PeaceHealth inoculated another 60 or so first responders at its Urgent Care location on Main Street in Vancouver.
Shaun Harper, chief medical officer for PeaceHealth Medical Group, said the plan is to vaccinate roughly 200 EMS personnel from Clark and Cowlitz counties over the next couple weeks.
“This is helping us build for a future when we are vaccinating a lot of other groups and the general public,” Harper said.
First responders fall into the earliest phase — Phase 1A — of Washington’s vaccine rollout.
Jason Jensen, a clinical education specialist with American Medical Response, said it has been a hard year for first responders, and that the vaccine offers light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak.
“It’s been extremely stressful for all of our crews,” Jensen said. “There’s a lot of demand on first responders in general. It’s affected their personal lives and professional lives.”
Aaron Hathaway, a firefighter and paramedic for Clark County Fire District 6, said he has done his best to protect co-workers who have vulnerable family members.
Hathaway commended Fire District 6 for putting the time, money and effort into properly training and protecting the crew from coronavirus.
“It’s created a second layer of concern for us in an already concerning job,” he said.
Hathaway received his first dose of the vaccine Tuesday, and settled into a chair that was socially distanced in a long hallway from a handful of other first responders who had just been vaccinated.
After three weeks, Hathaway can get a second vaccine dose, which will provide him with nearly 95 percent protection from virus symptoms.
Hathaway said receiving a vaccination falls in line with the oath he took to protect and serve.
“If we can do this to protect our families, our community members, that’s our job,” Hathaway said. “I feel like that’s my duty.”