Protecting paramedics: New study looks at biggest COVID-19 risks on the job

VANCOUVER — A new study is hoping to recruit thousands of paramedics from B.C. and Ontario to help understand the biggest COVID-19 risks they face at work, and how they could be better protected.

Participants will give blood samples three times over the course of a year to test for the presence of antibodies, indicating a previous infection or the result of a vaccine.

St. Paul’s Hospital emergency physician and UBC assistant professor Dr. Brian Grunau is the study’s principal investigator. He told CTV News paramedics who take part will also complete surveys about their work.

“For those paramedics who have had COVID-19, what that data will allow us to do is look at all procedures that paramedics have performed and get an idea of what procedures have placed them at increased risk of transmission,” he said. “They also have increased risk as they perform urgently required procedures such as CPR or other airway procedures which may release covid related particles into the air.”

Grunau said they’re hoping to recruit 5,000 paramedics between the two provinces, and have already seen about 300 sign up.

Ultimately, he said the study will help create recommendations to improve safety.

“There’s several dozen different paramedic services in Ontario and they all have their own policies with regards to personal protective equipment,” Grunau said. “And this creates a scenario where we’ll have lots of data of different types of equipment being used, with different procedures being performed, and then we’ll be able to compare the differences between these strategies.”

He added for those paramedics with antibodies, the study will also follow how long they last.

Advanced care paramedic Richard Armour is taking part in the study, and said working during the pandemic has been stressful.

“I think its heightened for us a little bit because we are performing procedures which we know may increase our risk of contracting the virus,” he said. “Of course, we’re taking every precaution possible.”

He said paramedics perform a lot of airway procedures to help people breathe, including those in respiratory distress from COVID, people experiencing cardiac arrest, and patients who are overdosing.

“The (personal protective equipment) is absolutely vital to us staying healthy,” Armour said. “I’d really like to be able to say that at the end of this study we have an idea of how best and how quickly we can protect our paramedics.”

The research is being supported by about $2 million in funding through the national COVID-19 Immunity Task Force. Any paramedics interested in the study can learn more here.

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