First responders take first round of COVID-19 vaccine

By SCOTT MIMS / Staff Writer

As Shelby County’s first responders and health care workers receive their first round of the COVID-19 vaccine, practices that have become regular during the pandemic—such as the wearing of PPE—likely will not change for some time.

One of the county’s first clinics for first responders and medical workers was held Tuesday, Jan. 12 at the Columbiana Exhibition Center. The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) partnered with the Shelby County Emergency Management Agency to conduct the clinic.

Major Clay Hammac, operations commander with the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, said the vaccine is not mandatory for SCSO staff; however, the department has made scheduling accommodations for anyone who wants it.

“We had a number of firefighters and police officers there today, in addition to doctors, nurses and paramedics,” Hammac said. “It’s a personal choice. We will support them one way or the other.”

Regardless, Hammac added, the sheriff’s office will remain “very strict” with safety protocols including the wearing of masks and adherence to all CDC guidelines.

Alabaster Fire Chief Tim Love said the COVID-19 vaccine is not required for his department either. Love estimated that about 50 percent of staff members have taken advantage of the vaccine.

“We’ve made it available to all our personnel. We’ve had personnel take both types (Moderna and Pfizer), and I think we’re at about 50 percent,” he said.

According to Love, the biggest impact the pandemic has had on the department comes down to staffing, obviously, because if one person tests positive, then all who have been exposed must quarantine.

Before the holidays, Love estimated, about 19 staff members had been exposed, which put a significant dent in availability for 24-hour shifts.

“Not only are you concerned with people getting the virus, you’re trying to keep it from getting into the station and having to quarantine,” he said. “If a whole shift gets exposed, that’s a tremendous impact on staffing.”

The department has had to limit contact with the public, and as a result events such as car seat training, blood pressure checks and school educational sessions have been cut in order to prioritize emergency calls.

“We have very robust civic interaction. We try to help the public any way that we can,” Love said. “Our main focus was to keep our trucks staffed normally, and to keep our response (time) up to normal. We haven’t failed at all in that aspect.”

Several Alabaster FD members—including Love—received their first round of vaccine through UAB and have since completed both rounds. Others are waiting to receive the second round through Shelby Baptist.

A couple of people opted out of receiving the vaccine because they had been active COVID-19 patients and had not waited long enough to receive a shot.

“We made multiple opportunities for them to take it. We will be looking at a second shot in the upcoming month,” Love said.

Even though vaccines have arrived, the department is nowhere near the point of changing recommended protocols. However, those who receive it will reduce their chances of contracting the virus.

“The vaccine I look at personally as just another tool in our toolbox for our staff,” Love said. “I think a lot of people are in kind of a wait-and-see mode. I think as time goes on and as more information (comes out) as to how it’s helping people, you’ll have more people to take it.”