‘They’re our first responders’

Posted on Mar 22 2021


With the 23 Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services firefighters refusing to be inoculated with the COVID-19 vaccine, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres said these firefighters are some the CNMI’s first responders and it is only right for them to participate in taking the COVID-19 vaccine as part of their mandate to protect the community.

In an interview with Torres last Saturday at NMTI’s board meeting, he said, “They are our first responders. They are there to protect us. We have vaccines available. It’s only right that they are vaccinated to safeguard not just the community, but everyone. It’s not just the firefighters it’s everyone,” said Torres.

He said it’s only possible for these firefighter to not take the vaccine if they have a medical condition with a doctor’s note provided explaining why they can’t be vaccinated or for religious reasons, but it is not acceptable if they just don’t want to take the vaccine for personal reasons.

“To arbitrarily say, ‘I don’t want to take it’ is contrary to the attorney general’s recommendation. …So, again, I continue to urge all employees to get vaccinated,” said Torres, adding that he encourages not only government employees, but private partners as well, to take the vaccine because “it’s what we need to do.”

“There’s a lot of thoughts of ‘Well, let’s see the governor take it first and let’s see if he falls.’ Well, I took it, I was the second one to take it and I’m still here,” said Torres.

Last March 16, all DFEMS personnel received a memorandum that says they are mandated to take the vaccine or risk termination. Their last day to register for the vaccine should be no longer than last Thursday, March 18. According to the memorandum, not registering or not showing proof that they have registered will result in disciplinary action. DFMES will only make an exception for those who have medical conditions or don’t want to take it due to religious beliefs.

It was learned that the firefighters have signed a notice of complaint that they are filing under duress due to the threat of termination for their refusal to take the COVID-19 vaccine. It was learned that the firefighters are not “anti-vaccine” but that they “just want a choice.”

Last Friday, Rep. Edwin Propst (D-Saipan) posted on Facebook that he and other member of the House of Representatives majority bloc are fully behind the firefighters. He added that the termination of the firefighters is “deplorable and disrespectful.”

House session

Speaking in last Friday’s House of Representative session, firefighter Shawn Delos Reyes Kaipat said that he and some of his fellow coworkers are unwilling to take the vaccine for the COVID-19 virus.

“We believe that it is still in its clinical stage,” Kaipat said. “And we are not ready to take it until it’s been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. We do not know what will happen five or maybe 10 years down the line.”

Kaipat shared his concern for the possibility of respiratory disorders, cardiac diseases, kidney or liver, or renal failure.

“We fear the outcome of taking it and ending up worse,” Kaipat said.

All three COVID-19 vaccines—the Pfizer vaccine, the Moderna vaccine, and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine—have all received Emergency Use Authorization from the U.S. FDA.

“Many of us in this profession want to serve the community the best way we know how until we retire, but it seems that will not happen. …Our families support what we do and why we do it, and for us to be forced to be vaccinated without hearing out concerns or thoughts, makes us feel unappreciated. We had more than 50 personnel unwilling to take the vaccine, but because of the threat of losing our job if we don’t by this Thursday, 3/18/21, our numbers dwindled,” Kaipat said.

‘COVID-19 vaccine: Yes or no?’

And it’s not just the firefighters.

A 23-year-old woman, who agreed to talk on condition of anonymity, said that while she respects everyone for getting vaccinated, she didn’t get it because of religious beliefs.

“I believe that everything comes with some form of guidance from a higher power and the vaccine is not an exemption. Given what has been going on, the vaccine obviously doesn’t prevent the spread of COVID-19. So, I believe once there is a vaccine that can really protect against this rampant virus, then I suppose this vaccine is guidance enough from God,” she said.

She does not discourage anyone from getting the vaccine, though. “I don’t want to discourage the community…because I believe that this is a stepping stone into containing the virus, but I’m in no rush to getting the vaccine,” she said.

For 53-year-old Rosalina Balajadia, she only took the vaccine because she is planning to travel, and to also protect her family. If there were any other way, she wouldn’t have taken the vaccine at all, she said, because she usually just stays home since she hasn’t been working.

In contrast, Marvin Buston, 34, said he chose to get vaccinated because he believes that it’s the “best way to fight the pandemic.”

“It’s a matter of choice, no one can tell you to do it. But for me, if you love your family, love your friends, the community, there’s no harm in getting the vaccine,” said Buston. He added that the recent community transmission felt like a wakeup call for everyone.

“I know the vaccination in the CNMI has been happening, but people are just waiting and waiting. I think the recent community transmission is the call for everyone. Let’s not wait, let’s all get vaccinated,” said Buston.

The CNMI is still leading in the COVID-19 pandemic response with over 40%, or 22,205 people, receiving at least one dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine or the Moderna Inc. COVID-19 vaccine. (With Neil Fama)

Justine Nauta | Correspondent
Justine Nauta is Saipan Tribune's community and health reporter and has covered a wide range of news beats, including the Northern Marianas College and Commonwealth Health Care Corp. She's currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Rehabilitation and Human Services at NMC.

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