CORONAVIRUS

Cedar Rapids firefighters get COVID-19 vaccines, Iowa City firefighters have to wait a bit

Cedar Rapids Fire Chief Greg Smith stands in the Central Fire Station before an Aug. 13 news conference on derecho recov
Cedar Rapids Fire Chief Greg Smith stands in the Central Fire Station before an Aug. 13 news conference on derecho recovery. Smith reported this week that about 75 percent of the city’s firefighters and seven Cedar Rapids police officers have had their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Because firefighters are EMTs and paramedics who come in contact with sick people, they were among the first group to receive the vaccine. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Roughly 75 percent of Cedar Rapids firefighters and a handful of Cedar Rapids police officers have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Fire Chief Greg Smith reported that 108 of the department’s 144 firefighters have started the vaccination process.

Seven Cedar Rapids police officers also have had the first of two shots, Smith reported at a Public Safety Youth Services committee meeting Monday,

Linn County is in Phase 1A of its vaccine distribution schedule, which includes adults living in long-term care facilities, nursing facilities, assisted living programs or group homes for the elderly, according to Linn County Public Health.

Phase 1A also includes health care workers — “paid and unpaid people serving in health care settings, who have the potential for direct or indirect exposure to patients or infectious material and are unable to work remotely.”

Like many of the larger career fire departments across the state, the Cedar Rapids Fire Department requires that its personnel be certified EMTs at the time of hiring, and more than one-third of the department’s firefighters also are paramedics.

That means firefighters are included in the Phase 1A vaccine distribution, Smith said.

The police officers who qualified are certified EMTs or paramedics, he said.

The rest of the police department will be eligible for vaccinations during the next phase of the state’s vaccine rollout.

The vaccines were administered through Area Ambulance.

Marion

The Marion Fire Department also requires it firefighters to be certified EMTs, said Fire Chief Deb Krebill, who said about 75 percent of the MFD’s 41 firefighters have received their first vaccinations. That includes the supervisory staff, as many of them — including the chief — still go on calls regularly.

At both fire departments, vaccines were made available on a voluntary basis.

Some declined

In Cedar Rapids, Smith said of the 36 firefighters that were not inoculated, some were unable to get vaccinated due to timing and others declined. Those who declined, he said, were not asked to give a reason since the procedure was voluntary.

“The fire department conducted a voluntary signup for those firefighters who wanted to receive the vaccination,” Smith said. “There were some employees on vacation or not available when the sign up process was conducted, and a couple of firefighters had recently recovered from COVID-19 and wanted to wait until they were fully recovered so they chose not to get vaccinated at the time.”

In Marion, Krebill said some firefighters opted to not take the vaccination “because they wanted to learn more about it first.”

Cedar Rapids firefighters received their first doses Dec. 28, Smith said. Marion firefighters were vaccinated about a week later, Krebill said. Both departments will receive their second doses in the coming weeks, which is about the same time the state will begin transitioning in to Phase 1B.

Next phase

Gov. Kim Reynolds announced Thursday that Iowa would begin the second phase of its vaccination program during the first week of February.

Phase 1B will include law enforcement, emergency responders, K-12 educators, child care workers and Iowans ages 65 and older.

However, the number of newly eligible Iowans — which the state estimates will be more than 660,000 — will outnumber the number of vaccine doses available, according to state officials, who asked for patience from the public.

Vaccines given

As of Wednesday, the Iowa Department of Public Health reported that 156,296 vaccine doses were administered across the state, 147,968 of which went to Iowa residents.

In Linn County, 12,125 vaccinations have been administered and 11,894 county residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine. In Johnson County, 20,040 vaccinations have been administered and 13,370 county residents have received vaccinations.

Iowa city

Iowa City firefighters are also required to become certified EMTs within their first year of employment with the department, but Fire Chief John Grier said Johnson County’s rollout of the vaccine is slightly different from Linn County’s because of the number of health care workers and long-term care facilities in the county.

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“Firefighters, along with police officers, will qualify for the vaccination in the next phase,” he said.

According to the Johnson County Public Health website, Phase 1B in Johnson County will be divided into five tiers, and first responders, child welfare social workers, early education school staff and child care workers in that tier. Individuals age 65 and older will qualify regardless of what tier the county is in.

That said, some of Iowa City’s firefighters have been able to get vaccinated through their affiliation with other fire departments or ambulance services, the chief said.

Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

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