By Kristina Rex

BOSTON (CBS) – Firefighters in Massachusetts are sounding the alarm about delays in COVID-19 vaccinations for first responders.

On Tuesday, Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts, the statewide union, posted on Twitter claiming the state has “no viable plan” to vaccinate local firefighters.

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The union president says the union learned the state planned to place the responsibility for distributing vaccines to first responders on local city and town boards of health. “The local boards of health have been overworked, a lot of them are understaffed especially in smaller communities,” Rich Mackinnon, MFFA President, told WBZ.

Mackinnon said that more than 800 firefighters statewide currently have COVID-19, and another 650 are quarantined due to exposure.

He worries with the state handing distribution down to town boards of health, there are too many offices involved, which could complicate the process. Instead, the union wants to be directly involved in the planning. “I think we could have been a little more proactive in coming up with a plan on how to vaccinate our first responders,” Mackinnon said, also adding that hundreds of firefighters are able to help administer the vaccines as EMTs.

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Add in the fact that first responders in New Hampshire started getting vaccinated on Tuesday, and it’s salt in the wound, Mackinnon suggested. “That’s been the hardest for our members quite frankly to deal with,” he said. “We are seeing first responders across the country that are getting vaccinated and now we are hearing maybe it was going to be the beginning of January and now we just got an email that it may be the middle of January [for us].”

“Our members just want to have a plan,” Paul Jacques said. He’s the president of Attleboro Fire PFFM Local 848, and says his department has had more than 20 positive COVID-19 cases with 3 firefighters hospitalized. “Our members are testing positive and getting coronavirus in the line of duty every single day,” he told WBZ. “They’re exposed knowingly and unknowingly to the coronavirus during our duties.”

That’s why Jacques says the need to vaccinate first responders is urgent. “It’s been very frustrating,” Jacques said. “We just want to know the plan, have a plan and be part of that plan so we can get vaccinated.”

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In a statement to WBZ, a state spokesperson for the COVID-19 Command Center wrote, in full, “First responders are prioritized in Phase One of the state’s COVID-19 Vaccine distribution plan, and based on current estimates, the state is planning to start vaccinations for police, fire and EMS in mid-January. The Command Center and the Executive Office of Public Safety look forward to this week’s meeting with first responders to review the planning that is underway to stand up sites for vaccinations. More information will be made available as this process progresses.”

Kristina Rex