Local first responders get a shot in the arm

MCFD1 paramedic Victor Hoffer administers a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to a Mt. Angel firefighter (Submitted).

The first responders of Keizer are used to putting themselves in harms way on a regular basis, and for the last 10 months, the danger they subject themselves to has increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, many first responders in Keizer recently received the first round of the COVID-19 vaccination process.

At the beginning of the year, Marion County Fire District #1 (MCFD1) received hundreds of doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine and put together a collaborative effort to begin vaccinating first responders in Keizer, as well as the rest of Marion County. 

Kyle McMann, the fire chief for MCFD1, is in charge of administering the vaccines for MCFD1, Keizer Fire District (KFD) and Keizer Police Department (KPD) and began vaccinating first responders on Jan. 8.

“It feels like we’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. It has given a lot of us hope,” MCFD1 McMann said. “Optimism is something that we haven’t had for months.”

“It’s been a difficult time for the entire community and it’s a relief to know vaccinations are in progress,” added KPD lieutenant Chris Nelson. 

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the Moderna vaccine is 94.1% effective after the second dose — which is administered 28 days after the first dose. The vaccine is intended to provide immunity to COVID-19 for a year.

“There is definitely a sense of relief around the department,” KPD Fire Marshal Ann-Marie Storms said about receiving the vaccine. “It provides a sense of relief and helps us know that we are on the right track and close to a glimmer of normalcy.”

Vaccinations for first responders are administered at either Salem Health Hospital or MCFD1. McMann said that he was able to give 100 doses to his employees in the first week and 300 doses for the rest of the county.

“We are trying to send people over to get vaccinated two to three times per week,” Storms said. 

While MCFD1 encourages their employees to get the vaccine, they are not mandating it. According to McMann, just over 50% of MCFD1 first responders have elected not to take the vaccine — unvaccinated employees are required to sign a waiver. 

KPD and KFD employees are also not required to get the vaccine — KPD employees who refuse the vaccine aren’t required to sign a waiver at this time.

“It’s a personal choice. Some people have different beliefs or health concerns about getting vaccinated. There are a lot of bargaining and legal issues we would have to go through to make it mandatory. But at other agencies, everyone will take the vaccine,” McMann said. “Personally, I would encourage people to get the vaccine, but after making an informed decision.”

While some first responders are reluctant, others are filled with relief and joy in the build-up to receiving their first dose.

“I have had a number of my employees tear up upon receiving (the vaccine),” McMann said. 

Once the vaccine is removed from refrigeration, it is only good for six hours, which is why efficiency is key for McMann.  

“Coordinating days and groups with each department was critical so that nothing would be wasted,” McMann said. “When we were vaccinating folks, we would look at the sign up sheet and only bring the exact amount of vials that we needed. The last thing we wanted to do was waste doses.”

McMann is hoping that all first responders in Marion County who want the vaccination will be able to receive their first dose by the end of the month. 

“I’m thankful I had the opportunity to receive the vaccine while I continue to serve the citizens of Keizer,” Nelson said.