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COVID-19 vaccine may be available, but some EMS workers are having difficulty accessing it

"I'm not throwing this back at the hospitals or healthcare community," said YREMS Chief Joe Stevens. "This all goes directly to the top."

YORK COUNTY, Pa. — Earlier this week, Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine signed an order which designates 10% of vaccines from hospitals and health systems be set aside for EMS companies.

You can read the order by following this link.

However, some first responders think of the effort as too little, too late.

"Just when you think you've experienced it all or seen it all, something comes up and smacks you alongside the head, and you're like, 'ah. Didn't see that one coming,'" said Chief Joe Stevens of York Regional Emergency Medical Services.

Harrisburg, PA - Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine today signed an order directing that a percentage of all vaccine distributions to hospitals, health systems, federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) and pharmacies be designated for health care personnel within Phase 1A, including those health care personnel working in Emergency Medical Services, that are not affiliated with a hospital or health system.

First, it was COVID-19 exhausting first responders. Now, EMS are having difficulty getting access to the vaccine.

"My 58 employees have to travel to get it, travel at least an hour. The closest facilities being made available to us Gettysburg, Chambersburg, Ephrata," explained the 6-year chief.

Stevens says the issue compounds when you factor in that some EMS workers take on multiple jobs to get by, they're exhausted from being on the frontlines, and they must make the same drive three weeks later to get their second dose.

"We can be under 3 foot of snow in 21 days, but in 21 days, they have a 3-day window to return to that exact same distribution point and get the second dose. That's problematic," said Chief Stevens.

The order may designate vaccines to be set aside, but Stevens says many hospitals have already started the administration process.

"So now, the hospitals are scrambling on the backside of things to try and figure out what to do. Little vaccine left at this point or people already scheduled to receive their own appointments, their own employees," he explained.

Stevens says in some instances hospitals are also prioritizing the EMS companies they work with.

"After those preferred providers are taken care of, then, they [hospitals] will reach out to other EMS organizations which are not affiliated. The problem being that there is another organization going without some form of protection," added Stevens. "I'm not throwing this back at the hospitals or healthcare community. This all goes directly to the top."

He says he's speaking out because it's not just an issue for his crews but companies across the state

"There just needs to be more distribution sites and a better way of doing it, and certainly, there should've been a plan. If you're going to categorize people, that should go hand-in-hand with a plan of implementation," said Stevens.

Dr. Levine said in a statement, "Vaccination process will take time. We need Pennsylvanians, including health care personnel to be patient as we continue to get the vaccine into the hands of the right people at the right time so we can protect against COVID-19. We appreciate the work of our health systems, hospitals, FQHCs and pharmacies for their partnership on this effort to ensure all health care personnel can receive the vaccine. We are hopeful as we move forward, additional vaccines trials will be completed and receive an Emergency Use Authorization, enhancing the number of vaccines we receive.” 

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