FDNY: Virus Vaccine Available For EMS, Firefighters Later in Dec.

Won’t Be Mandatory; Unions Leery of Side Effects

The Chief | December 1, 2020
By Bob Hennelly

The Fire Department has told uniformed employees that it is “working diligently” to get a coronavirus vaccine to be administered to an undetermined number of first-responders by later  this month and that it will not be mandatory.

An FDNY spokesperson said the volume of doses that the department would be allocated was not under its control but that it was anticipated that priority would be given to employees who were most frequently in contact with patients.

Two look promising

According to the Nov. 27 department order, the two vaccines closest to being released are from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, which in their clinical trials appeared to be 95-percent effective after two injections spaced three-to-four weeks apart.

Its Emergency Medical Technicians and firefighters were 15 times more likely than the general public to be infected during the initial COVID-19 outbreak, according to a study led by Dr. David Prezant, the FDNY’s Chief Medical Officer and a Professor of Medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

The researchers also found that EMTs were five times more likely than firefighters to develop a severe COVID infection.

During the study period, 62 responders contracted a severe COVID-19 infection, with four Emergency Medical Service workers dying.

Union Concerns

“Some of us are still skeptical after our 9/11 experience, when the Federal Government said something was safe and it turned out to be deadly for thousands,” said Oren Barzilay, president of District Council 37’s Local 2507, which represents EMTs. “We would want the state and city health-care experts to independently investigate the efficacy of the vaccine and whatever potential side effects there might be, which so far are not being talked about.”

Vincent Variale, president of DC 37 Local 3621, which represents EMS officers, said during a phone interview the debate over the COVID-19 vaccine reminded him of the controversy several years ago regarding the H1N1 Flu vaccine.

“They [FDNY] wanted to make it mandatory and we said absolutely not—we would retain the right to control what goes into our body,” he said. “We were successful then because our members are not guinea pigs.”

The Local 3621 president said he hoped the department would track any members who take the vaccine in terms of potential side effects. “You want to be paying attention to the potential impacts on females, blacks and Hispanics that are represented on our workforce,” he said.

UFA Also Wary

“I would hope that the FDNY would investigate the side effects first,” said Andy Ansbro, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association. “I have read that they are suggesting you should take the next day off because of how hard it can hit you.”

“A lot of guys are plugged into social media on this and have their views on it,” Mr. Ansbro said. “Everybody wants this virus to go away, but nobody wants to be a guinea pig.”

Several national polls have shown that as the debate about the pandemic became increasingly partisan, public confidence slipped regarding any vaccine that the Federal Government might offer.

That was borne out in the health survey of Metropolitan Transportation Authority workers conducted by the NYU School of Global Public Health in cooperation with Transport Workers Union Local 100.

Only 30% Willing

Only 30 percent of the respondents said they would trust whatever vaccine was offered, with another 38 percent undecided.

Both Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio have committed to have an independent scientific evaluation of the efficacy of any vaccine before distributing it to first-responders and health-care workers.

In October, Mr. Cuomo expressed skepticism about any vaccine produced by the Trump Administration’s “Operation Warp Speed.”

“You are going to say to the American people, now here’s a vaccine, it is new, it was done quickly, but trust this Federal administration and their health administration that it’s safe? And we’re not 100% sure of the consequences? I think it’s going to be a very skeptical American public about taking the vaccine, and it should be,” he told ABC News.

At his Oct. 22 press briefing, Mayor de Blasio pledged, “We are not going to treat anybody as less than as a valued civil servant. We are not going to do something unless we are 100 percent sure. That means the state and the city together are going to be vetting any vaccine.”

Dr. Jay Varma, one of the nation’s leading epidemiologists and the Mayor’s top coronavirus adviser, said public skepticism was to be expected after Mr. Trump dubbed the program “Operation Warp Speed.”