EMS providers push to get vaccine as soon as possible

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Greenfield Fire Chief Jon Cohn says they've got their "toes dipped in a number of pools" to try to get the COVID-19 vaccine. 

EMS providers are part of the first phase for the state's vaccine distribution, but so far Cohn says no fire department in Milwaukee County has received the vaccine. Cohn, who is also the president of the Milwaukee County Association of Fire Chiefs, says they've been working with local health departments to try and get the vaccine through them. 

"We're sort of running around, working the phones, working the emails, trying to get our members vaccinated," he said. 

He says a group of the fire departments in Milwaukee County and private ambulance providers put in a separate application to the state as a vaccination site for fire and EMS. 

"When we get a patient in the back of our ambulances, it's a 10 by 10 square, so a pretty limited area that we're having face-to-face contact with patients and we try to put masks on our patients and sometimes they're not compliant," he said, "EMS is health care. There is no other provider that does what we do and our EMTs and paramedics bring the emergency room to your living room, to the crash site, to a retail store," he said. 

He says he can tell a little bit of frustration in members and across departments with not knowing when they'll get the vaccine. 

"We're not saying we're more important than somebody else, we just would like our piece of the pie to get our members vaccinated so we can continue our services," he said. 

Cohn also said once they are vaccinated, they can also become the vaccinators. 

"We're not just asking for a give, we're also willing to give something back to our communities," he said. 

"I think there's frustration because there were many health departments and fire departments that had relationships in place ready to take the Pfizer vaccine including super cold storage, etc. and none of those vaccines made it to any of the health departments," said Jerry Biggart with the Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin. 

"There's a few places around the state where hospitals gave some of the vaccine to firefighters," he said. 

Biggart says firefighters are always going into unknown circumstances. 

"There isn't just risk going to emergency medical calls, this is a risk at fires as well. We've had many members exposed at fires because you get numerous departments that show up," he said. 

"These EMS providers in the state and country they’re in the 1a phase for vaccination for good reason," said Dr. Ben Weston with Milwaukee County's Office of Emergency Management, "We’re working hard to make sure they get the vaccine as soon as possible. I know our local health departments, our local health officers they’ve been working tirelessly to obtain vaccination to immunize providers, as has our office of emergency management." 

He says they continue to work with the state and with a local coordinating vaccine group. 

"To get that vaccine to our local health departments, to our EMS providers and vaccinate really these most frontline of our frontline providers," he said. 

DHS says it understands some EMS, along with other unaffiliated health care personnel, may not have easy access to health care systems and other vaccinating entities. 

DHS says it is coordinating with local and tribal health departments that have the capacity to vaccinate those groups and that they are trying to make it as easy for health care systems as possible to offer the vaccine to those groups. The department is also working to provide mobile vaccination clinics starting in January. 

A spokesperson said this week, DHS has prioritized registering local public health and EMS as vaccinators, and they expect most EMS who have applied to be vaccinators will be included in next week's allocation survey, and would receive the vaccine the week of January 11th. 

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