Los Angeles firefighters and paramedics receive first COVID-19 vaccine doses

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    LOS ANGELES, CA – DECEMBER 28: John Novela, left, Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) fire inspector, receives a Moderna COVID-19 vaccination given by Mario Guillen, LAFD firefighter paramedic, at Station 4 on Monday, Dec. 28, 2020 in Los Angeles, CA. Mayor of Los Angeles Eric Garcetti and Ralph M. Terrazas, LAFD fire chief, were there to observe the rollout of the vaccination program. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

    Faith E. Pinho
    Los Angeles Times

    Firetrucks and paramedic paraphernalia were cleared out and vials and needles rolled in Monday as a downtown Los Angeles fire station transformed into a vaccination site for the city’s firefighters to receive their first doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

    The Los Angeles Fire Department employees — the city’s first to receive the vaccine — joined first responders across Southern California in getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

    “These are the folks who are always there for us,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said. “Not just during COVID, but when any disaster strikes — whether it’s a fire, whether it’s a medical emergency — we know that these men and women are the folks that are literally angels in our city of angels.”

    Shipments of the Moderna vaccine arrived for the LAFD last week, agency spokesman Peter Sanders said. About 150 LAFD paramedics were trained Monday morning on how to administer the vaccines, earning shots in the arm in the process. In the afternoon, they began giving the vaccine to their colleagues as Garcetti, LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas and other officials watched.

    “We do see the vaccine as a light at the end of a very long tunnel,” Terrazas said. He noted that the Fire Department has seen 650 positive cases among its ranks since the beginning of the pandemic. Roughly a dozen have been hospitalized and one firefighter-paramedic, Jose Perez, died of COVID-19 complications in July. Even now, 157 remain in quarantine or isolation, according to Sanders.

    The Moderna vaccine has been shown to be 94.5% effective at preventing cases of COVID-19. News of its arrival for first responders came as L.A. County showed an increasingly dire picture of the pandemic: 7,181 coronavirus-positive patients hospitalized, with 1,449 in intensive care, according to the latest state data. Many hospitals are already overrun with patients, and the numbers are expected to worsen when infections from Christmas gatherings begin to show.

    “It may not feel like it on a rainy day like this, but this is a ray of sunshine,” Garcetti said, as rain poured outside the fire station garage.

    Behind the mayor, the vaccination process hummed along. One person registered the firefighters’ names while another drew the vaccine from a vial and another stuck it into the firefighter’s arm. In the coming weeks, firefighters will receive email and text updates to remind them to get the second dose.

    The garage has already been functioning as a once-a-week COVID-19 testing site for city employees, Sanders said. Now it will double as a vaccine site for the Fire Department’s approximately 3,400 first responders, along with two other stations in Watts and North Hollywood.

    The department expects to vaccinate every employee who wants to receive it in the next two weeks. A recent informal survey showed that nearly 90% of respondents said they wanted the vaccine, Sanders said.

    Firefighter-paramedic Mark Flynn said he was “50-50” a few weeks ago about whether he would get the vaccine, but after researching it and speaking to medical doctor relatives who had received the vaccination, he decided to line up.

    “The benefits outweigh the risks for me,” Flynn said. “I think the biggest thing is educate yourself. Do some personal research on it.”

    After receiving the vaccination, he said he was “happy about it.” Now he plans to share his experience with family and friends.

    “I’m kind of the guinea pig, so to speak, for them,” he said. “Maybe I can encourage them to get it as well.”

    Terrazas said he plans to receive his first shot Wednesday, alongside the presidents of the firefighter and chief unions. They will videotape their experience and send it to all employees, to encourage them to get the vaccination as well, he said.

    “I didn’t want to cut in front of anybody. It’s a longstanding tradition in our Fire Department — like for meals, the officers go last,” Terrazas said. “But I also want to encourage people, and the best way to encourage them is for me to get the shot.”

    Similar scenes have unfolded at fire stations across Southern California in recent days. The Los Angeles County Fire Department began rolling out vaccines on Christmas Eve, said Capt. Ron Haralson. As of Sunday, 1,793 of the department’s approximately 4,000 members had been given the Moderna vaccine, he said. The department expects to offer it to everyone who wants it within the next few days, Haralson said.

    Orange County Fire Authority employees began receiving the Moderna vaccine over the weekend, as did emergency medical technicians, firefighters and paramedics in Corona.

    This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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