Local group helps reshape federal flu
By Becky Evans - Standard-Times Staff Writer
November 27, 2007
If the bird flu or another
pandemic ever strikes, police and firefighters across the nation may
owe a debt of gratitude to emergency planners in SouthCoast.
Thanks to the Southcoast Emergency
Planning Partnership, proposed federal guidelines now state that U.S.
firefighters and police officers should be among the first to get vaccinated
against a deadly flu pandemic.
The guidelines were amended after
local officials requested that fire and police personnel be included in the
top category of those receiving vaccines. The original draft of the federal
government's vaccine allocation plan listed police, fire and other public
safety workers in the second tier, while emergency medical technicians were
assigned to the first tier along with health-care providers and key
Since police and fire officials are
often the first to respond to a medical emergency, it only makes sense that
they be vaccinated first so they can help the afflicted without getting sick
themselves, said Acushnet Fire and Rescue Chief Kevin A. Gallagher.
Chief Gallagher sits on the steering
committee of the partnership, which is composed of town government, health,
safety and school officials from Dartmouth to Wareham who meet once every
month or two to plan the area's response to a potential flu pandemic.
When the group looked into the
state's influenza pandemic preparedness plan a year ago, it found that most
public safety workers were slotted to receive the second round of
The group wrote a letter to former
public health commissioner Paul J. Cote Jr. asking that the state give
police and fire personnel the vaccine in the first round.
"Our concern is the health and safety
of the men and women of our public safety departments who provide a valued
service to our communities by coming into close contact with the people they
serve," according to the letter.
The public health department
responded that the state was following vaccination allocation
recommendations issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,
Chief Gallagher said. The group then decided to take its request to the
federal agency and enlisted the help of U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who
chairs the Senate's Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
When the department released a new
draft of its vaccination guidelines in October, the request had been
granted: fire and police personnel were listed under Tier 1.
"We're stunned," Chief Gallagher
said. "You can't fight city hall, but in this case when it simply makes
logical sense, it's reaffirming to know that policymakers will change their
"In every community in America,
firefighters are essential to responding effectively to emergencies, whether
from natural disasters or global pandemics," Sen. Kennedy said in a
statement. "Thanks to Chief Gallagher's determination, firefighters around
the country will receive the vaccines they need in a flu pandemic so they
can continue to protect the communities they serve so bravely and so well."
The U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services is accepting public comment on the proposed guidelines until
Dec. 31. Chief Gallagher says he expects the amendments to remain intact.
If they do, he said the partnership
will keep in close contact with the state Department of Public Health to see
that the agency adjusts its own vaccine plan to reflect changes in the
Agency spokeswoman Donna Rheaume said
the state is keeping an eye on the federal plan.
"We are waiting to see what changes
the federal government will incorporate before we change our plan," she
said. "We think it's important to be consistent with our federal partners."
Contact Becky W. Evans at