After getting COVID-19, DC Fire and EMS captain urges 1st responders to get vaccinated

When the vaccines became available to first responders in the District, Capt. Joe Boling opted not to get one, because he was healthy and didn’t like the sound of the side effects.

Early this month, he and his wife fell seriously ill with COVID-19. Now, he’s urging his fellow first responders to overcome their hesitancy and get vaccinated.

“I was worried about the side effects — not looking at the big picture,” Boling said. “The thought of getting sick never crossed my mind; I never thought it would happen to me.”

Boling’s story speaks to a larger theme among first responders in D.C., where 723 out of roughly 2,100 D.C. Fire and EMS employees (around 34%) are currently declining the vaccine, the department said in an email to WTOP. Around 190 members are still considering getting their first dose. The rest have received at least one dose.

D.C. police have currently vaccinated 58% of the force, though a spokesperson did not provide a count of employees who are choosing not to get vaccinated.

These numbers are ahead of the general population of D.C., with roughly one-third of the city’s residents now fully vaccinated.

Exactly 10 days after their symptoms first appeared, Boling and his wife woke up unable to breathe. They called 911 and were taken to the hospital.

“On Day 10, it was like a switch turned — I started really getting sick; my wife started really getting sick,” Boling said.

Boling spent six days in the COVID-19 unit of a hospital receiving treatment. He was released on April 21. He was prescribed 14 days of home oxygen, meaning he’ll be carrying oxygen around with him wherever he goes for the next two weeks.

Boling said his decision to skip the vaccine out of concern for the side effects “wasn’t a very good one” when compared with the impact of the virus and the side effects of the various treatments used to combat their symptoms.

“I was a super-healthy guy; I didn’t think it was going to be me either,” he said. “COVID isn’t selective — it’s all over the place. It’s affecting everybody different. Don’t roll the dice — the vaccine is simple fix.”

For now, Boling is talking to groups of first responders, warning them of the dangers of skipping their vaccinations.

Boling is on track to recover and return to work within a few weeks, but he said getting vaccinated would have saved him a lot of unnecessary trouble.

“If you have any reservations about getting the vaccine, put them aside. Do your research, but — trust me — get it,” Boling said. “Because you don’t want to be where I’m at. I’ve been really sick; I’ve been really lucky. I’ll get back to work, but it’s gonna take a bit. Get the vaccine.”

More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Zeke Hartner

Zeke Hartner is a digital writer/editor who has been with WTOP since 2017. He is a graduate of North Carolina State University’s Political Science program and an avid news junkie.

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