Simcoe County paramedics asking when it will be their turn for a COVID jab

Union questions roll out and why paramedics appear to be taking a back seat

Paramedics in the region are playing a waiting game for their first dose of the COVID vaccine.

Cory Schepers, the President of OPSEU Local 303, said there’s a lot of frustration and anger among the paramedics.

“We are first responders and not necessarily being considered that … by the government.”

Schepers represents about 380 paramedics with the County of Simcoe, Rama First Nation and Beausoleil First Nation.

On the province’s COVID-19 website, the government lists which high-risk populations will get the first dose of the vaccine:

Timing

December 2020 to March 2021

Who will be vaccinated

Early doses will be available for:

  • residents, staff, essential caregivers (including family caregivers) and other employees in congregate living settings for seniors
  • health care workers, including hospital employees, staff who work or study in hospitals and health care personnel
  • adults in First Nations, Métis and Inuit populations
  • adult recipients of chronic home health care

Schepers said the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit and MPP’s told them they were being moved up to the first phase, but he notes that was months ago.

“But they cannot define a timeline for us,” he said.

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit said in an email to Barrie 360 that the priority groupings are determined by the province and it is not open to individual health units to determine these.

“Of course, as we have vaccine made available, we are moving quickly to get priority groups immunized,” the health unit added in its email.

Dr. Charles Gardner, Simcoe Muskoka Medical Officer of Health, told a media briefing Tuesday that the health unit was only getting a very limited supply at a time to be able give second doses.

“We will work through priority groups in keeping with the province’s direction about that,” Gardner said.

“We would need to go on and include our First Nations communities. There’s also health care providers in the community. There’s paramedics, other first responders, and those would be the next steps. Then, very soon, we would be looking for those who are most senior and most elderly in our communities.”

Schepers said paramedics want to be treated like health care workers. He questions whether the vaccine rollouts are the same province-wide.

“Because paramedics in York, Peel, Toronto, Halton, Dufferin, Hamilton and Durham, they’ve all received it or have had access to it, if they chose to receive it,” he said. “And most are now starting to get their second dose.”

Schepers said the anxiety and stress his members have been going through for the past year has increased in light of new COVID variants that are in the community.

“We’re being exposed to that regularly, especially when we’re going into Roberta Place daily,” Schepers pointed out.

Roberta Place is the long-term care home in Barrie that has been ravaged by a COVID-19 outbreak traced to a new variant of the disease. The outbreak has infected at least 100 staff and every resident at the facility, with the death toll as of Tuesday at 66 residents and three deaths that are probable cases.

“If we get exposed to the U.K. variant, we are getting swabbed at day seven and day 14, regardless of the amount of personal protective equipment worn, and that comes from the health unit,” said Schepers.

“They’re telling us more or less that they need to make sure that you might be at risk here, but yet not providing the vaccine for us yet.”

Schepers praised the County of Simcoe for its support.

“They’ve been advocating for us. They have the ear of Dr. Gardner and the health unit more so than we do. As well, they get the opportunity to speak to the health minister and other people a little bit more than we do.”

At a media briefing on Dec. 30, 2020, Dr. Dirk Huyer, a member of the provincial COVID-19 vaccine distribution task force, said paramedics are in the group of health care workers who will be immunized during the first phase which is extended into March.

“Paramedics are recognized as an area of health care and will be vaccinated within the first grouping,” Huyer told the media briefing that day.

Area paramedics continue to answer the call when their services are needed, but the waiting game is getting to the membership.

“It’s very frustrating. It’s caused a lot of anger. It’s really starting to weigh on a lot of paramedics.” said Schepers.