D.C. Firefighter Sends Message to Community About COVID-19 Vaccine

(DC Fire and EMS Department photo, Facebook)

Lieutenant Jackson was hesitant at first

Doreen Gentzler, NBC Washington with permission

WASHINGTON (NBC Washington) – D.C. firefighters and first responders will be getting vaccinated Thursday as part of a citywide effort to boost confidence in the new COVID-19 vaccine.

The first emergency responders to receive the Pfizer vaccine, which arrived Wednesday, have been dubbed “The First Five.” They are D.C.’s Fire Chief John Donnelly, the department’s medical director Dr. Robert Holman, and three firefighters, Lieutenants Joseph Papariello and Keishea Jackson, and firefighter/EMT Julio Quinteros.

For Jackson, it’s about building public trust in the vaccine and protecting her father.

“My worst fear is giving it or passing something to my dad. I am the sole provider, meaning I keep him in the house, I grocery shop, meds, cook. Every single day I come home to him. And my worst fear is contributing to — to just making him sick,” Jackson said.

Jackson has been working the frontlines of recent protests and admits she was hesitant about the vaccine at first, but changed her mind after her best friend, a nurse, got infected.

“I can admit, I was that person who was definitely against it. I was not going to do it. [I said,] ‘Let me wait a year. Let me see what happens.’ I can’t afford to do that anymore,” she said. “For me, it’s trying to send a message to Black and brown people that look like me. It is my race that is dying at a high rate.”

More than 300,000 Americans have lost their lives to COVID-19, with Black people nearly three times as likely to get sick or die from COVID than their white neighbors. Yet, communities of color are often reluctant to get vaccinated, citing a deep mistrust in the government.

That’s why the next few weeks and months will be critical as doctors call on everyone to do their part in slowing the spread this winter.

“We have hope after a very long, long year, so we just need everyone to be patient,” Dr. Mona Gahunia, an infectious disease physician with Kaiser Permanente, said. Kaiser will be distributing the vaccine Thursday.

According to the Pew Research Center, 60% of Americans say they would get a coronavirus vaccine, which is an increase from 51% in September.

Gahunia’s advice is for people to “be ready to receive the vaccine when it’s their turn to receive it, and for now to limit travel, limit gathering until we can get to a more normal way of life in the next year or so.”

Kaiser Permanente will also be immunizing the frontline public health workforce, which includes COVID testing staff and home health care workers, Gahunia said.

Despite the rollout, vaccinations for the general public likely won’t begin until April of next year. Face masks and social distancing are still the best defenses from catching COVID-19, for now.

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