Philadelphia fire leaders work to educate hesitant employees about COVID-19 vaccine

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Philadelphia has vaccinated the highest number of people in the five-county region. The city has now administered 40% of the vaccines it has on-hand, but not everyone is on-board with getting a vaccine.

"I'm not going to take something that I don't need," said John Jones of North Philadelphia.

Sarah Mohtes-Chan of Spring Garden has a different perspective.

"I would 1,000% take it and hope that everyone else would too," she said.

Right now, the Philadelphia rollout is focused on the nearly 125,000 people in group 1A. The group is filled with healthcare workers and first responders.

"We're defining healthcare workers pretty broadly because we don't want it just to be nurses and doctors," said James Garrow, the director of communications for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. "We wanted to include everyone who has patient contact in those healthcare settings."

That includes EMTs and Philadelphia paramedics, but about 100 of those workers given priority have chosen not to get the vaccine.

"I think folks have a lot of different concerns about the vaccine, and we are doing our best to educate them and address those concerns," said Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel, who adds that he looks forward to getting the vaccine as soon as it's his turn.

In some cases, the decision not to get a vaccine falls along the lines of race. Forty-three percent of people who have been vaccinated in Philadelphia are white. Twelve percent are Black.

"This is a fear and mistrust is built in because of healthcare systems and governments being systematically racist. And I think it's important to put it as bluntly as that," said Garrow.

The Philadelphia Department of Health is not requiring workers to get vaccinated. Both the health department and fire department are doing outreach in hopes that the skeptical will reconsider.

"We are in a state of crisis where we need to get vaccinated," said Demetrio Olivieri, a Philadelphia firefighter who got the vaccine on Wednesday morning.

Leaders in the city's health department say at the rate that the vaccines are coming in right now, it could take a year to provide enough vaccinations to everyone in the city who wants one.

The next rollout phase is for group 1B, which could be just as big as group 1A. That phase could begin sometime in February.

The city's vaccine advisory group is working to determine exactly who would be included in group 1B. Officials have said that the group will include front-line essential workers.
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