Central Alberta paramedic Gera Vanderlinde has transported COVID-positive patients to Red Deer hospital from rural health care facilities.
She must sit in the ambulance with these patients for hours, if needed, until a hospital bed can be freed up for them.
Yet Vanderlinde and other Alberta paramedics are not among the frontline health-care workers that the province is including in the first round of vaccinations against the potentially fatal virus.
“It’s not a very good feeling,” admitted Vanderlinde. The 51-year-old rural paramedic has already had to self-isolate twice, and is worried for her health and that of her co-workers.
Paramedics wear N-95 masks, eye shields and other protective equipment. But Vanderlinde’s daughter, who is also a paramedic, has already gotten ill (and recovered) from the virus. Her family believes she caught it on the job.
“It’s a concern. Everybody is frustrated,” said Vanderlinde.
Tom McMillan, Alberta Health spokesman, stated on Tuesday the government recognizes the important role of EMS members, but with limited doses of vaccine, “we’re starting in Phase 1 with those who are most vulnerable, and health care workers who serve them.”
The first and current vaccine roll-out targets health-care workers in intensive care units, emergency departments, respiratory therapists, and staff and residents of long-term care homes.
But Vanderlinde said emergency workers would also like to stay healthy so they can be there for the Albertans who need them.
Paramedics never know what they will encounter when responding to 911-calls, she added. They are vulnerable whenever they enter a home to pick up a potentially infectious patient, when they transport COVID-positive patients between hospitals, and clean out their vehicles between each call.
“I’ve never disinfected so many ambulances in my life…”
The Ontario government was recently thanked by the paramedics’ union in Peel Region for “recognizing paramedics as the health care professionals we are,” and agreeing to vaccinate them as part of Phase 1, along with ICU hospital staff and long-term care home employees and residents.
Vanderlinde hopes the Alberta government will follow suit — as does the Alberta Paramedic Association.
“When will the Government of Alberta and AHS recognize paramedics as part of the health care workforce? Paramedics… should be apart of the COVID-19 AB roll-out with the rest of health care workforce,” the association’s president tweeted.
So far, Alberta hasn’t officially added paramedics to the second round of vaccinations, which are slated to start in April.
McMillan said in an email to the Advocate that no decisions have been made yet on the populations or groups to get vaccinated during Phase 2, as much will depend on the amount of vaccine available and how the virus is spreading. “We will make those decisions in the coming weeks.
“We are working to immunize Albertans as effectively and safely as possible,” he added.