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SWAMPSCOTT — The Swampscott Fire Fighters Union has taken issue with comments made during Wednesday’s Select Board meeting, where several town officials were critical of first responders who chose not to get vaccinated last week.
Swampscott first responders were among the first in the area to receive COVID-19 vaccinations in neighboring Marblehead last week. Police and firefighters from both towns were vaccinated as part of a regional effort that included three other communities: Beverly, Danvers, and Salem.
More than 700 first responders were vaccinated through that regional effort, as part of the state’s phased vaccination program. However, Town Administrator Sean Fitzgerald said there were some individuals from the town’s police and fire departments who chose not to get vaccinated.
“There were some that I have questioned why they didn’t get vaccinated,” said Fitzgerald. “We can’t force folks to get vaccinated. We’re going to ensure that they have access to vaccinations.”
Fitzgerald said he spoke with both the town’s police chief, Ronald Madigan, and its fire chief, Graham Archer, about the matter this week, and asked them to look into why some of their employees had chosen not to receive the shot.
“I have concerns about making sure that everybody gets vaccinated,” said Fitzgerald. “I’m concerned about their safety, but also the safety of everyone else.”
Because the coronavirus vaccines have only been authorized for emergency use, the town’s first responders cannot be required to get the vaccination, added Select Board Chairman Peter Spellios, who cautioned residents against having a “false sense of security” following the regional first responder vaccination effort last week.
“People shouldn’t assume that just because first responders had the chance to get vaccinated that they got vaccinated, because that would not be accurate,” said Spellios. “I don’t want people to have a false sense of security. There’s nothing to be concerned about, but at the same time, I think Chief Archer said it well, that the tables have turned.
“It used to be public safety was concerned going into people’s houses, about exposure, and now, as we move forward, there’s a legitimate concern that people shouldn’t assume that just because vaccinations were made available that everybody was vaccinated,” he said.
On Thursday, the Swampscott Fire Fighters Union responded to the criticism expressed during the Select Board meeting, particularly Spellios’ “false sense of security” comment, with a letter addressed to the “citizens of the town of Swampscott.”
“During said discussion, questions were raised on how many first responder employees chose to be vaccinated vs. how many chose not to be vaccinated,” the union wrote. “These comments bring scrutiny and condemnation to the members of our emergency services providers.
“The opinions of our Select Board, town administration and department administration are being allowed to create tension amongst the community members of the town of Swampscott and the way they view the first responders.”
In its letter, the union noted that the federal law known as HIPAA, which is an acronym for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, would be violated if a town board were to disclose that sensitive medical information “without the patients’ knowledge or consent.”
“Comments were made that suggested members of Swampscott’s first responder community have not received a vaccination according to administrative ‘records,’ and that this may somehow be a violation of the standards our first responder community tries to uphold,” the union wrote.
“Only time will tell whether the Moderna vaccination can have lasting effects in defense of COVID-19 transmission. No member of the public, whether resident or visitor of the town of Swampscott should feel disheartened by a first responder’s decision to not take the Moderna vaccination. Every individual has the right to choose.”
In its letter, the union cited data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which states that the Moderna vaccine is 51 percent effective two weeks following the first dose, and does not reach its promised 94 percent effective rate until two weeks after the second dose is administered.
At this time, the union said there has not been a schedule for when, or a guarantee that, the second dose will be offered to the town’s first responders.
The union also emphasized the work that the town’s firefighters do on a daily basis to keep the community safe, which includes adhering to COVID-19 precautions, such as wearing personal protective equipment and practicing social distancing at each emergency incident response.
“Do not forget that we have families and loved ones as well, which we are trying to protect from ourselves,” the union said.
The Item reached out to the Swampscott Police Union, but had not received a response by the publication’s deadline.