With thousands of new COVID-19 cases reported every day, the development and distribution of a vaccine are significant for slowing or stopping the spread of coronavirus.
When Moderna, one of the biotech companies developing a coronavirus vaccine, launched the third phase of its clinical trial at the end of summer, the company asked for study participants in high exposure risk jobs. More than 30,000 Americans answered the call, including four West Metro, CO Local 1309 fire fighters from the fire district’s Station 2.
“As soon as I heard about this opportunity, I knew it was the right thing to do,” says Local 1309 member Mike Binney, who is among the four to participate in the clinical trial. “Taking part in this trial was a low risk to us as participants, but the benefit was high. Having this vaccine means we can stay healthy on the job and we won’t pass the virus to others.”
In the trial, half of participants received the vaccine and half received a placebo (a saline solution). Participants tracked possible and known COVID-19 exposures through an app and had their blood tested regularly for immune response.
Local 1309 member Aaron Johnson, who also participated in the trial, says having this vaccine will give him and others peace of mind.
“I was proud to participate in this trial because the vaccine will protect us from the virus and potential long-term effects that could affect our health and ability to do our job,” says Johnson. “It will also be a great relief to know that if we get symptoms, such as fever, that it’s not COVID-19.”
With the rollout of the Moderna vaccine, the company let trial participants, including the Local 1309 members, know whether they had received the vaccine or the placebo on January 11. All four had received the vaccine. (If they had received the placebo instead, Moderna had promised to immediately make the vaccine available to them.)
As the vaccines were made available, fire fighters and other first responders were included in the Phase 1b group behind the first Phase 1a group. This sparked immediate concern among fire district management and West Metro Local 1309 as many have contact with COVID patients in their capacity as paramedics providing pre-hospital care.
“Unlike the hospital environment, we’re going into uncontrolled situations,” says West Metro Fire Chief Don Lombardi. “We did not want to go ahead of frontline healthcare workers, but it was critical that we be placed in the Phase 1a group along with them due to our high exposure risk.”
Chief Lombardi first sent a letter to Colorado Governor Jared Polis requesting the move to the Phase 1a group. But it was the relationship between Local 1309, fire district management and local hospital administrations that gained Local 1309 access to the COVID-19 vaccine.
A recent informal survey of Local 1309 members and fire district staff shows that the majority wanted to receive the vaccine as soon as possible.
“From the beginning of the pandemic, we have provided our members with as much information about the COVID-19 virus and the development of vaccines as possible,” says Local 1309 President Michael Mulcahy. “Armed with information, our members are ready to do their part to stop the spread of the virus, including getting the vaccine.”
Many members have already received their first Pfizer or Moderna vaccine shot. The rest have their first shots scheduled.
But even as members receive their vaccinations, Local 1309 President Mulcahy says they know they can’t become complacent and that is important to still continue to follow safety protocols, including wearing masks and proper personal protective equipment, washing hands and social distancing.