Police and fire departments are next in line to get a COVID-19 vaccine with group 1B

MADISON, Wis. — In Wisconsin, exactly who will be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine in group 1B hasn’t been decided just yet.

Tuesday morning, the State Disaster Medical Advisory Committee (SDMAC) Vaccine Subcommittee met to finalize its recommendations for group 1B, which will be sent to DHS. Their recommendations include people older than 70, people living in congregate settings such as Family Care, jails or shelters, and frontline essential workers such as first responders, childcare workers and educators with direct interaction with students.

Ultimately, it’s up to DHS to decide who will make up group 1B. The only people they have announced that will definitely be eligible next are police and fire departments.

Many, if not most, local firefighters have already been vaccinated because they are also EMTs.

Che Stedman, Assistant Chief of Medical Affairs with the Madison Fire Department, said about 60% of the department’s almost 400 firefighters have been vaccinated already as part of group 1A.

“About 70% of people were interested and willing to get it. About 20% were kind of unsure and needed more information and a little bit less than 10% said that they wouldn’t get it at this time. So we’re hoping that we get at least 80-90% of our staff vaccinated,” said Stedman.

He said access to a vaccine won’t change much of the department’s operations. EMTs, paramedics and firefighters will still wear masks and social distance.

But he hopes the vaccine will help with staffing issues.

“I hate to mention it but budgets matter. So if we have people that aren’t getting sick and aren’t being quarantined as much, it helps us for staffing and saving the taxpayers’ money,” said Stedman.

For a small fire department like Columbus Fire, losing firefighters who have to quarantine because of sickness or exposure is an even bigger issue.

“We gotta list 10, 15, 20 people from the fire department, that’s going to put is out of business,” said Columbus Fire Chief Randy Koehn.

None of the 36 volunteer firefighters in Columbus have gotten a vaccine yet.

He said his department hasn’t been able to meet or do in-person trainings out of fear of exposing everyone, leaving the community without anyone to help in a fire emergency.

“A lot of the training in the fire department is hands-on stuff and we haven’t been able to do (that),” said Koehn.

An email from the local hospital Tuesday morning asking for a list of firefighters who want to get vaccinates means Koehn and his team are close to getting their extra layer of protection soon.

Similarly, the Madison Police Department is working with Public Health Madison and Dane County to set up times for officers to be vaccinated with group 1B.

On Monday, DHS said only about 25-30% of group 1A had been vaccinated.