Teenage members of volunteer SAR squad receive Pfizer vaccine

Fourteen teenage volunteers who work side-by-side with adult members of the Marin County Sheriff's Office Search and Rescue Unit were made eligible for the shots


Keri Brenner
The Marin Independent Journal, Novato, Calif.

MARIN COUNTY, Calif. — Fourteen teen volunteers with the Marin County Sheriff's Office Search and Rescue Unit recently moved up in coronavirus priority tiers to receive vaccinations.

Team leader Michael St. John said Marin County public health officials classified all 110 volunteer members of the team — adults and teens — as first responders and thus on a higher priority tier than a typical healthy teen or adult.

Teenage members of the Marin County Sheriff's Office Search and Rescue Unit received the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine along with adult members of the squad.
Teenage members of the Marin County Sheriff's Office Search and Rescue Unit received the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine along with adult members of the squad. (Photo/Marin County Search and Rescue)

St. John said the work can involve administering first aid and can take place in confined spaces with close contact, such as in tents or vehicles.

"Our teen members are responding side-by-side with adult members," he said. "They have the same training and the same skills."

So far, about 60 members of the Marin rescue team have been vaccinated, but St. John said its vaccination classification was recently changed at the state level to a lower priority tier. The remaining team members will have to wait, St. John said.

The decision to vaccinate some teen members involved several factors, St. John said. The team has to travel as a group for long distances in close quarters, sometimes to other counties.

He said only teen volunteers who were highly active during the team's 59 missions last year were allowed to receive the vaccine.

Volunteers had to be at least 16 years old to receive the Pfizer vaccine, excluding members who were 14 or 15. The Pfizer vaccine is being administered at the public safety vaccination site at the Marin County Civic Center in San Rafael, St. John said.

St. John said four Marin teen search members helped recover the remains Thursday of a man who was reported missing since last weekend in Mendocino County. The teens traveled four hours each way to participate in the search, St. John said.

"They are first responders, in every sense of the word," St. John said. "They are on the front lines."

The decision to vaccinate the youths has drawn some criticism.

"If a 16-to-18-year-old is considered high risk to transmit the virus when working outside while masked at SAR, then why are they considered low risk to teachers in the Marin high schools?" Jessica Crabtree, a teacher at Redwood High School in Larkspur, said in an email.

Crabtree said teens in high schools should get similar consideration because they are at risk of transmitting to teachers.

"When we eventually open at Redwood, I will be indoors with 10 to 12 teens at a time, in a room, in a building with 600 teens and 100 adults — a building that opens to hallways with poor ventilation," Crabtree said.

St. John said, "It's a hot-button issue, and we understand it. But being vaccinated will allow us to carry on more safely — both for the people we're taking care of and for each other."

Woody Baker-Cohn, the Marin emergency services coordinator, said decisions on who is granted priority on vaccinations involve a variety of factors.

"They're not given out as rewards for anything," he said. "They're based on the exposure risk and also the criticality of a position. For example, paramedics: We don't have that many of them, so if any of them become sick, we could be in trouble if there is an emergency."

In Sonoma County, sheriff's Sgt. Juan Valencia said vaccinations for first responders were still being organized and scheduled.

"We don't know when our deputies will get vaccinated," he said. "We know we're on the list, but as of today there's no date set yet." He had no word yet about any classification for the Sonoma County search team.

Marin County guidelines call for teens aged 16 and older, without underlying health conditions, to be in phase 3, which is expected to begin this summer, according to the Marin public health website at coronavirus.marinhhs.org/vaccine.

Teachers and school staff are in phase 1B, tier 1, which is expected to begin vaccinations by Feb. 1.

As of this week, almost 83% of Marin's approximately 150 schools have opened for at least 10% in-person learning, according to the county's database at coronavirus.marinhhs.org/schools.

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(c)2021 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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