Evan Davis, International Association of Fire Chiefs
The IAFC applauds the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (National Academies) for recommending that all firefighters and emergency medical services (EMS) personnel be placed in the highest priority tier for receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. While firefighters and EMS personnel need reliable access to personal protective equipment (PPE) and COVID-19 testing, vaccines are the ultimate form of defense for those serving on the front lines of the battle against COVID-19.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health recently asked the National Academies to develop a prioritization schedule for administering the COVID-19 vaccine. Throughout the summer, the IAFC has been urging the CDC, through its Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, and other federal entities to ensure firefighters and EMS personnel receive prioritized access to the vaccine. On September 1, the National Academies recommended that all firefighters and EMS personnel be placed in Priority Tier 1A for vaccine access. This placement will ensure that first responders receive the vaccine once the Food and Drug Administration approves it.
Earlier today, Fire Chief Gary Ludwig, IAFC President 2019-2020, addressed the National Academies in support of the proposed prioritization schedule. Chief Ludwig provided three overall recommendations to the National Academies:
Retain All Firefighters and EMS Providers in Tier 1A: The IAFC strongly supports the National Academies’ decision to place all firefighters and EMS personnel in the highest priority tier. Fire departments’ all-hazards response role puts firefighters and EMS personnel in routine risk of exposure to COVID-19. Ensuring these individuals can receive the vaccination will allow them to maintain their readiness for medical emergencies, fires, natural disasters, acts of terrorism, and other emergencies.
Uniform Prioritization Scheduling: The IAFC also urges the National Academies and federal government to require all states to provide prioritized vaccine access to fire and EMS personnel. The IAFC is aware of some states that de-prioritized fire departments for access to COVID-19 PPE and testing. Similar state-level deviations should not be permitted when it comes to providing vaccines to fire and EMS personnel. Responses to natural disasters and acts of terrorism frequently require interstate mutual aid responses. A uniform prioritization strategy would allow firefighters and EMS personnel to engage in these responses without confusion about who is vaccinated and who is unprotected.
Role of EMS Personnel in Delivering Vaccines: The IAFC also encouraged the National Academies to consider how fire departments could assist in administering COVID-19 vaccines to the general public. Fire and EMS personnel in many cities already are facilitating COVID-19 testing. The strategic locations of fire stations and the advanced medical training of firefighters and EMS personnel make them logical partners in administering a vaccine to the public.
The IAFC plans to continue urging the federal government to place fire departments on the highest priority tiers for COVID-19 PPE, testing, treatments, and vaccines.
Evan Davis is a strategic government relations manager for the IAFC.