VANCOUVER -- Firefighers and RCMP members in Surrey and White Rock are being offered early COVID-19 vaccinations due to their cities’ high infection rates.

The new program applies to officers and civilian staff at detachments in both cities, as well as firefighters, and comes as a third wave of coronavirus infections grips the province.

Sgt. Elenore Sturko said getting the vaccines will mean she is no longer at risk of unknowingly spreading the vaccine to community members or her family.

“This is a great morale boost...knowing that the chance of me inadvertently spreading the virus, as a result of the work that I do, is reduced a lot,” she said, just minutes after receiving her COVID-19 shot.

Sturko says she’s grateful that she and her colleagues were made a priority, as many of them are directly exposed to the virus while on duty. For example, she recently had to search a person who had a confirmed case of COVID-19.

“I had a great deal of PPE on,” Sturko said.

“I actually had a very effective respirator that I was able to wear.”

But still, it caused anxiety.

“The days following the search … any little tickle in your throat, it's always in the back of your mind: ‘Did I contract COVID-19?’”

About 1,200 RCMP staff in Surrey and White Rock, and hundreds more firefighters at local halls will be getting inoculated. It comes after months of fierce advocacy from both the Surrey fire chief and Surrey RCMP’s assistant commissioner.

However, first responders in other hard-hit communities like Vancouver and Squamish have not yet been given priority status, and the Vancouver fire chief is concerned.

“At this point in time we probably have a very small number of individual firefighters that are vaccinated,” said Fire Chief Karen Fry. “The majority of our members are not vaccinated.”

She says many firefighters who work in Vancouver live in Surrey, and many respond to emergency calls in high-need areas where COVID-19 infection rates might be higher.

“We don't know where we will be going or who we will come across in our incidents,” Fry said.

“We need our first responders, not only our firefighters but our police and our other front line staff in the city to be protected as soon as possible, and that’s our plea,” she said.

“If the AstraZeneca has not been approved, let's pivot and give first responders something else as soon as we can.”

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says all first responders will be vaccinated early, with the order based on COVID-19 case numbers in the community where they work.

“We need to prioritize by (locations) where the risk is greatest, and that means that some people will get it before others. We can’t give it to everyone at once, we need people to be patient,” Henry said.

Fry thinks Vancouver firefighters should be next in line.

“I would suggest in a place like Vancouver we go to over 40,000 incidents a year protecting upwards of a million people. Could you imagine if we compromise that,“ she said.

Sturko says she understands Fry’s frustration, and hopes first responders in other B.C. cities get their vaccines soon.

“We hope that you're right behind us,” Sturko said.