Health care workers receiving the COVID-19 vaccine
Vermont's cops and firefighters will soon be able to receive coronavirus vaccines after they persuaded the state to move them into the highest priority group.
The Vermont Department of Health confirmed the change Thursday. It was finalized on Monday, a spokesperson said.
The tweak reclassifies police and fire personnel as "emergency medical services," which are part of the so-called "1a" priority phase that is currently underway. Ambulance and rescue squads were already in that group, along with health care workers and residents of long-term care homes.
Other essential workers, including teachers, police and firefighters, were initially slated for the second phase. But late last month, the Health Department announced a significant revision to its vaccination plan, electing to use that phase to distribute doses to older Vermonters according to age bands, and to residents with specific health conditions.
State officials have said that approach is designed to save the most lives. Risk of death from COVID-19 increases greatly with age.
Police and fire agencies contended that waiting another month or more to get inoculated could jeopardize critical emergency services. In recent weeks, COVID-19 outbreaks have shut down the Vermont Police Academy and torn through the Bennington Police Department.
"We wanted to be able to do our job and help at this time," said St. Johnsbury Police Chief Timothy Page, who serves as president of the Vermont Association of Chiefs of Police. "The only way we can do that is by remaining healthy."
Page said police and fire officials have made their case in recent meetings with state officials.
Health Commissioner Mark Levine said Tuesday that he expects to complete the 1a phase by the end of January. The state's vaccine planning group is still ironing out details of the next rollout phases, and more information is expected to be released soon.
About 17,700 Vermonters had received initial vaccine doses as of Monday, according to the Health Department.
When Vermont State Police troopers will receive their first shots is dependent on the state's weekly allocations, among other factors, spokesperson Adam Silverman said. "The logistics," he added, "are being worked out through Vermont Emergency Management and local hospitals in the days and weeks to come."