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Firefighters demand free tick vaccine: 'We can't build a good working environment with luck' – Kommunalarbetaren

Firefighters demand free tick vaccine: 'We can't build a good working environment with luck' – Kommunalarbetaren

The number of cases of tick-borne disease TBE is increasing every year, and the season is now in full swing. One area where the disease is particularly prevalent is Östra Götaland – where emergency services are now asking for free vaccination against the infection.

Firefighter and safety advocate John Fearnhead is one of those pushing the issue:

– It's an unpleasant disease. I met someone with TBE who had significant side effects and had a long commute back to work. Then I felt, “This is preventable.”

John Fernhidy.

The second time I liked it

This question had already been asked to the Östra Götaland Rescue Service two years ago. Then the employer said no to free vaccination and pointed out that the firefighters already had protective clothing and equipment in the tall grass.

But John Fernheide was not satisfied with this answer and after receiving the same letter also in the spring, he has now sent a 6.6a report in which he demands that the Work Environment Agency investigate the matter.

– Vaccinations against TBE are already offered in some rescue services in Sweden. They are also standard with the police and armed forces. There, employers have already taken responsibility for this concern.

“We can't choose where we move to.”

As a firefighter, you travel a lot in terrain where ticks are present, says John Fearnhead.

– We may have to put out forest or grass fires or help an ambulance retrieve injured people in the terrain. After all, we cannot directly choose where we move.

Over the years, many of his colleagues have gained strongholds in the service, despite the tough equipment, boots, and clothing with legs and long sleeves.

– Fortunately, no one has gotten sick yet, but we can't base our work environment metrics on luck and bad luck.

Employer's response

In the employer's response to John Fearnhead's request for free vaccination, they referred to the investigation conducted in 2021. They wrote that the protective clothing already provided – and access to a bathroom after the procedure – was sufficient to protect against TBE.

They write: “We take responsibility for our work environment.”

John Fearnhead disagrees. After meeting someone who has suffered the side effects of the disease, he thinks it would be difficult to continue working as a firefighter if you had to go through the same thing. He says they need to be in the best possible mental and physical condition at all times.

– The employer, by law, is responsible for preventing ill health and accidents, but it seems that he wants to take measures that reduce the risks rather than eliminate them completely.

He adds:

– Unfortunately, there is a preventive measure in the form of a vaccine that provides almost 100 percent protection against TBE, but a different path was chosen.

The Work Environment Agency should investigate the matter.

In the coming weeks, the Swedish Work Environment Authority will review the notification and investigate whether the employer is obliged to provide free vaccinations to employees.

John Fearnhead is optimistic:

– I don't think there will be any doubt. But then you know it can be a long process so we may not be able to reap any benefits from it during this season.

Above all, he hopes the initiative spreads and more rescue workers in the country get a shot in the arm.

– If the Swedish Work Environment Agency believes that the employer should be responsible for the whole thing, then of course that will spread throughout the country, which is very positive in this case, concludes John Fearnhead.

What is TBE?

TBE is a viral disease spread by ticks. The risk of infection is highest in Götaland and Svealand (here Can you see exactly where? It takes four to ten days from the time you become infected to the time you become ill. Most people who become ill have mild symptoms such as headache, muscle aches, fatigue and fever, but for about a third, inflammation develops in the brain or meninges – or both. The inflammation comes about a week after the first symptoms disappear, and is often characterized by a high temperature, severe headache, vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound, confusion, difficulty concentrating and sometimes paralysis. Some people also develop a stiff neck. After recovery, discomfort may remain. You should contact your health center if you suspect you have TBE, immediately if you are seriously ill.

Source: 1177 Public Health Agency

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