Youngstown Fire and EMS Receive First COVID Vaccines

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Some 50 firefighters and emergency medical service personnel received the first COVID-19 vaccines in the city Wednesday at Youngstown Fire Station No. 1.

The vaccines were administered by the Youngstown City Health District, which received 900 doses of the Moderna vaccine over the Christmas holiday, said Erin Bishop, health commissioner. The first batch goes to EMS, fire department EMS and some firefighters, as well as residents and caregivers of congregate living homes in the city.

“This has been highly anticipated for this day to come,” Bishop said. “And we’re so excited we were able to do the administration with our EMS and our Youngstown firefighters today.”

Getting first responders vaccinated is important because they must respond to calls where they can potentially be exposed to individuals who are COVID-19 positive, said Youngstown Fire Chief Barry Finley. Unlike a fire, COVID-19 is an invisible danger, he said.

“We can’t take care of people if we can’t take care of ourselves,” Finley said.

Capt. Courtney Kelly, firefighter and paramedic at the City of Youngstown Fire Department, receives a vaccination from Theresa Sanchez, nursing supervisor at Youngstown City Health District.

About 30 from the department signed up for this first round of vaccines Wednesday, but not all received it right away, Finley said. Vaccine times are staggered in the event something might happen to those vaccinated individuals, he said.

“If something happens, there’s an adverse reaction, then I have 30 people off,” he said. “So, I’m doing 20 and then hopefully another 10 or 15 on the 27th [of January].”

Youngstown Fire Department is staffed with 122 individuals and nine trucks at seven stations. Some weren’t able to get vaccinated yet because they’re still in quarantine themselves. So far throughout the pandemic, “quite a few” have either tested positive for COVID-19 or been exposed to someone who has, Finley said.

“I’ve had at least 10 or 12 people that were positive,” he said, “and upwards of 30 or 40 that probably were exposed that were home on quarantine. It’s been running rampant through the first responders, period.”

And that has an impact on the department’s ability to do its job, Finley said. If a third of the department is quarantined, “that’s a third less people that we have riding on a fire truck that can respond to whether it’s a structure fire or call for help. And we can’t operate like that,” he said.

“Anytime that we do anything as a fire service, we need all hands on deck all the time,” he said. “That’s why this is extremely important for us to get out there and show the public that if your first responders are getting the vaccination, then maybe you should do it too.”

The district is distributing the doses in accordance with Phase 1A guidelines set by the Ohio Department of Health, Bishop said. As other first responders are included in vaccine distribution, including police and other firefighters, the health district will set up clinics for those departments, she said.

On Thursday, a clinic at the Eugenia Atkinson Recreation Center on Youngstown’s north Ssde will administer vaccines from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. to individuals living and working in congregate living houses throughout the city. “We’ll be doing four people every 15 minutes and just kind of cycling them through,” Bishop said.

Next week, the health district will begin traveling to other group homes in the city.

The health district worked with the Mahoning County Board of Developmental Disabilities and Gateways to Better Living to identify and schedule individuals to receive the vaccine, she said.

“They know their clients, they know the people who need them,” she said. “It was nice that they were able to help us with the scheduling.”

After receiving the vaccine, individuals must standby for 15 minutes to monitor for any reactions, said Anthea Mickens, director of nursing for Youngstown City Health District. Thus far, there have been no reactions other than a sore arm for a day or so, she said.

Mickens advises anyone who gets the vaccine now or in the future to continue wearing face coverings, washing their hands and abiding social distance guidelines.

“Just because they receive the vaccine does not mean that they’re ok to go out in the community without doing that,” Mickens said.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.