Firefighters being denied priority vaccines, but new Premier still relying on them to test others

After the Rankin Government walked back its promise to vaccinate firefighters in priority sequence, the Premier is now relying on those same firefighters to help test during this COVID-19 outbreak.

“First they were essential, then the Premier wouldn’t return their call,” says Cumberland South MLA Tory Rushton. “Now, after a spike in cases, they’re needed again.”

During the April 25 news conference, Dr. Robert Strang indicated that firefighters were being recruited to assist with testing capacity issues.

Adding insult to injury, at yesterday's news conference it was said that volunteer firefighters who perform advanced healthcare response have already been vaccinated. This news came as a surprise to many firefighters who confirmed that this is not the case.

“Volunteer firefighters are the backbone of the communities they serve. We are often there on people’s darkest days,” says Brian Cameron, a firefighter in Thorburn. “The government promised vaccines to firefighters and needs to follow through with that - especially if they are now being asked to help with testing.”

Firefighters who offer Medical First Response (MFR) services were promised priority COVID-19 vaccinations and fitting for N95 masks on February 16th, but firefighters say that those communications from the province have since stalled on vaccines and are only just starting on N95 Masks.

Now firefighters are being recruited by the province to test others. Rushton said it’s a pattern with this Premier who refuses to prioritize pregnant women, those with pre-existing conditions at higher risk, and many first responders as priority groups for the vaccine.

“I don’t understand the logic,” says Rushton. “It’s a poor plan, and it’s a poor way to treat our first responders.”

Rushton and Fire Service Association of Nova Scotia president Daniel Gaudet, noted last week that without the vaccination, firefighters are not being paged to emergency calls that they used to take.

He says that vaccinating MFR firefighters - a step which the government already promised - is a matter of public safety that could save lives.

“For the safety of both the firefighters and those they respond to - they need to have priority access to vaccines and to be supplied with proper masks,” says Gaudet.

Gaudet also said that many fire departments don’t have MFRs and that any firefighter could be the first to respond to urgent calls such as motor vehicle accidents when MFRs aren’t available.

“The Premier is just digging his heels in rather than listening to experts,” said Rushton. “I’m sad to see the Premier going back on his word. It’s not leadership.”

During Question Period on April 1st, Liberal Health Minister Zach Churchill stated that If the epidemiology changed, and the science indicated that they needed to change the vaccine strategy, that they would do so. So far there have been no changes in response to the recent outbreak in COVID-19 cases.