Lifeguard Call Out Squads (and their patients, and their communities…) will be safer from Covid!

Did you know some Surf Life Saving New Zealand lifeguards were working even during Covid lockdown?

Regional Call Out Squads (previously called Emergency Call Out Squads) get tasked by Police and Gov’t to respond to Search and Rescue events: finding missing rock fisherman, overturned kayakers, capsized boaters, surfers and swimmers in trouble, people trapped on cliffs and islands, sometimes body recovery to bring closure to families, and even missing persons searches along our harbours, mangroves, beaches and dunes.

They’re NZ’s surf/beach/inshore rescue do-it-all agency. If it’s too wet and dangerous for a police officer, or too close to breaking waves, rocks, or shore pound for the big Coastguard boats, they’re your volunteer heroes. They train for it year-round, participating in maritime search-and-rescue practice sessions and simulations.

A while ago I asked the Ministry of Health to consider them for expedited Covid shots, as frontline health workers. If they have to respond, and be prepared to rescue patients, ventilate drowned patients, and resuscitate people, they need to be as prepared as possible.

Allan Mundy, Adam Wooler, Paul Dalton and their team did a good job of getting them PPE (protective gear) even when it was difficult to source and today Ashley Bloomfield and his MoH have stepped in to provide the Regional Call Out Squad members with frontline worker/priority vaccinations. As medical director for Surf Life Saving New Zealand, I didn’t want them to push ahead of any sick and vulnerable patients…but I did want them protected as frontline workers.

I am so happy to see them get access to Covid-19 vaccinations. They’re frontline workers, they might save you from drowning someday, and they’ll be vaccinated. Safer for them, and safer for you and me.

Vaccination virtually eliminates their risk of dying of Covid or becoming seriously ill, in the event of community spread.

They will be able to do their work more safely….and protect the public too: once these squads are vaccinated the risk of them spreading it to others (or superspreading it) decreases hugely. Remember that people can spread Covid to others even when they feel perfectly fine!

I’ll say it again: You can feel completely healthy, while you’re spreading Covid to your friends, whanau, and patients…to the elderly, those with cancer, autoimmune disease, lung disease, and the many vulnerable people in our communities.

I’m proud these volunteers are being treated like the first-responders they are. These women and men are on call 7 days a week, around the country, ready to drive to an incident, don a wetsuit, take a small inflatable boat out in metres-high waves, and jump into cold water to help someone at the drop of a hat…in addition to working their day jobs…for nothing more than an occasional recognition, an article in the paper, and the knowledge that they’re helping their communities. These are the people that make NZ great.

-Dr Gary