'The Relief That We've Been Waiting For': Virginia Beach's Emergency Responders Begin To Receive COVID-19 Vaccine
In Virginia Beach, paramedics and firefighters are considered health care workers, making them part of the first group of people to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
"Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, EMS has transported at least 600 known COVID-positive patients to the hospital," said Ed Brazle, chief of the city's emergency medical services.
At an event on Tuesday, there were more than 300 doses of the Moderna vaccine available to employees. They made appointments in advance to get their shot in a drive thru, set up inside the bays of one of the city's EMS stations.
"This is just the beginning of the relief that we've been waiting for for a long time," said Dr. Demetria Lindsay, health director for the city.
Moderna's vaccine is taken in two doses, 28 days apart. After receiving a shot this week, recipients set up a second appointment to receive the second dose.
Shanna Rone has been a volunteer EMT for two years. Over the last few months, she's been increasingly frustrated as she transported more people to the hospital and activities like clubbing and partying -- some of the driving forces of outbreaks -- continued.
"It's hard, convincing people that they need to step up...and go to a new norm," she said.
Rone had no hesitation about getting the shot and was one of the first people to show up to the drive.
"It is a sense of relief, I’m not going to deny that," she said. "But until more people are vaccinated, it’s not a complete fresh breath of air."
Dr. Demetria Lindsay said it's not clear yet how fast the city can get medicine to first responders and others who are considered high-priority. Virginia so far has received about half a million doses of the two federally approved vaccines; that's enough to vaccinate about 5% of the population.
Virginia Beach isn't requiring its employees to get vaccinated, but Brazle said it's been highly suggested. There are about 1,200 certified EMTs and about half of them have already signed up to get a COVID-19 shot, Brazle said.
"In the EMS field it's a completely uncontrolled environment," he said. "And then once you take a patient, you're enclosed in the back of an ambulance with them for an extended period of time. So the risk factors go up. And again, while we have great PPE, this provides that great measure of protection for our folks."
The city's EMT workforce is made up largely of volunteers. They will choose whether or not to get the vaccine.
Rone said she knows some people may question how fast the vaccines were created.
"You have to convince people and have people understand that it wasn't so much a rushed vaccine. They've been studying the corona viruses for some time now," she said. "I'm trying to still convince my mother when it's time and her husband and everyone else to try to get this vaccine."