Alberta paramedics not included in first wave of COVID-19 vaccine distribution
CALGARY -- Although their profession is considered an essential service, paramedics in Alberta were not included in the first wave of front-line workers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
In an e-mailed statement, Alberta Health officials say Emergency Medical Services (EMS) are likely to be included in Phase 2 of vaccine delivery that is expected to rollout in April 2021.
Union officials representing 27,000 Alberta health-care workers including EMS, tell CTV News that many of its members are frustrated with the current vaccination prioritization.
"Our front-line paramedics are responding to the most critical COVID-19 patients in this province," said Mike Parker, president of the Health Science Association of Alberta (HSAA), "They are at ongoing risk at the highest level and must have access to the supports and protections urgently."
Parker adds that leadership within the EMS ranks under Alberta Health Services and the government under Health Minister Tyler Shandro were "failing to recognize" the issues facing EMS members in terms of workplace environment, which is now being compounded by rising cases of coronavirus.
Parker says he and a few other members of HSAA, including a paramedic, were part of a conference call with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday afternoon.
CTV News has not received a response after requesting comment from both Minister Shandro’s office and AHS, but Alberta Health issued the following statement regarding vaccine prioritization.
"We recognize the important role that teachers, first responders and many others play, and the desire for all Albertans to know when they can access the vaccine," said Tom McMillan, spokesperson for Alberta Health.
"There are about 4.4 million people in our province. We have currently received 3,900 doses. We’re receiving limited doses of the vaccine, so we’re starting in Phase 1 with those who are most vulnerable, and health-care workers who serve them."
According to McMillan, decisions about other priority populations or groups are not expected to be made until early next year and will be dependent on the quantity of vaccine secured, how the virus is spreading and how the first rollout went.
"We will make those decisions in 2021 and share with Albertans as soon as any decisions have been reached."
However, other jurisdictions have outlined paramedics as high priority for vaccination in either the first or second phase.
Saskatchewan is expanding a pilot program to offer shots to 1,950 health-care professionals including frontline staff in cancer care, the emergency medical services (EMS) personnel, as well as key staff that are in higher risk areas due to their participation in aerosol generating medical procedures.
"They're the ones serving long hours in situations where we know we cannot always eliminate every risk that they may come into. And we should be thankful,” said Scott Livingstone, CEO of the Sask Health Authority during a briefing on Thursday.
The United Kingdom also released its priority list for immunization earlier this month.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation said the second phase should include groups based on occupational hazards — including "first responders, the military, those involved in the justice system, teachers, transport workers, and public servants essential to the pandemic response."
During her briefing on Wednesday, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health stood by the Phase 1 rollout, and said first responders will be included in subsequent strategies.
"We know that all of these workers provide valuable services and we want to make sure that we are offering immunization to Albertans as quickly and efficiently as possible," said Dr. Deena Hinshaw. "But we do need to, again, make these decisions, and the first quarter will really be dedicated to those at highest risk of severe outcomes and those who care for them."