PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — They are the first ones out to rescue you on the water, but it turns out, certain lifeguards are not eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Lifeguards who are EMTs have been able to get the COVID-19 vaccine as first responders. But the medical director for Palm Beach County Ocean Rescue said about 20% of lifeguards are not EMTs and they’ve been left without access to the vaccine.
On a beautiful and warm South Florida day, ocean rescue lifeguards stand on watch to protect you, while some are still waiting for a COVID-19 vaccine to be protected.
"If you’re at one beach, you might be rescued by a lifeguard that is vaccinated. Whereas if you’re at a different beach you’re rescued by a lifeguard that is not vaccinated," said Palm Beach County Ocean Rescue medical director Steven Keehn.
Keehns said ocean rescue lifeguards who are under a local fire departments within the county have been able to get vaccinated.
"It was on a voluntary basis. I think I was one of the first to apply and it was a very easy process," said Palm Beach Shores lifeguard Brian Bowen.
Bowen is one of them. He said the fire chief for the town offered the vaccine to its lifeguards, and he was relieved given the direct contact lifeguards have during rescues.
"When you’re rescuing somebody, they are struggling, they’re taking in a little water. They’ve already exhausted themselves, they are breathing hard and they’re actually coughing and sometimes spitting up throwing up on us," Bowen said.
Keehn said ocean rescue lifeguards in Boca Raton, Lantana, and Lake Worth who are not EMTs don’t have access to the vaccine under the current state executive order.
"Unfortunately COVID doesn’t discriminate. Whether you have a piece of paper that gives you a license, that you’re an EMT, or you have your emergency medical response certification. You’re still doing the same job. You’re still going into the water," Keehn said.
WPTV asked Palm Beach County health director Dr. Alina Alonso what options these lifeguards have.
"They can probably get it through the federal sites as that might be a possibility. But they cannot get it through us with the vaccine we have from the state," Alonso said.
"Parks and rec has done a great job trying to help but unfortunately its above them. It's at the state level," Keehn said.
In the middle of spring break on South Florida beaches, Keehn said he hopes something will change soon. It could be even more difficult for these lifeguards to get the vaccine once the general public can get it.
"I would think the general public would want to be rescued by somebody who has vaccinated. Think that would make them feel more," Keehn said.