Monterey area fire personnel vaccinated against COVID-19

MONTEREY — Monterey Peninsula firefighters, paramedics and other emergency services personnel who come in contact with any number of sick and injured people on a daily basis recently received vaccinations against COVID-19.

Monterey Fire Department Chief Gaudenz Panholzer said the vaccinations began Jan. 2 with a Monterey County Health Department clinic and continued through Thursday with the department operating the clinics.

Panholzer oversees the fire department, which serves Monterey, Pacific Grove, Carmel and Sand City as well as several military installations on the Peninsula. The department operates six fire stations and employs 88 people.

“Paramedics routinely come in contact with COVID patients almost on a daily basis that may need advanced care, particularly in nursing homes or other care facilities,” Panholzer said. ”They could be treating a patient for a heart attack who is also COVID-19 positive.”

Monterey City Manager Hans Uslar said it is key for the city to ensure fire staff remain healthy so they can treat residents and others in the area who are often critically ill.

“Almost always our firefighters are the first ones to arrive on medical calls,” Uslar said. “Our EMTs and paramedics often administer lifesaving measures to residents in medical emergency situations. The vaccinations are protecting our trained first responders.”

Panholzer applied with the county in mid-December and received approval from the Monterey County Health Department a few days before Christmas. The county is storing the vaccines because of the extremely cold temperatures in which the Pfizer vaccine must be kept and then delivering the doses to the fire department’s clinic in the public safety complex in Monterey.

It’s a win-win for the county and the fire department, Panholzer said. Since paramedics have been cleared to administer the vaccines, it frees up county personnel to address the surge in infections in Monterey County.

The Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula is reporting it is being buffeted by the surge. Hospital spokeswoman Monica Scuito said it had to institute a plan to use its Post-Acute Surgery Unit for intensive care patients when the ICU is full.

“In addition, we have stopped all elective surgeries and procedures at the hospital, thus making room for more COVID and other patients in need of our care, and to utilize staff from those areas to assist in other areas of the hospital,” Scuito said. “At this time, we think staffing is the most critical issue for hospitals in the county.”

The county initially did not advertise that EMS personnel were being vaccinated out of concern that the clinics would be flooded with people who were not first responders.

The Los Angeles Times is reporting that crowds of desperate people seeking early access to the vaccine led to longer lines and headaches for workers at four sites run by the city of Los Angeles set up to provide doses exclusively for health care employees.

“That would slow everything down for everyone downstream,” Panholzer said.

Monterey Mayor Clyde Roberson on Thursday said in an email that the public is standing behind fire and paramedic personnel who are getting vaccinated.

“The entire community values and appreciates the responsiveness, professionalism and helpfulness of its superlative fire department which fulfills its mission every single day,” he said.

Contributed by local news sources

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