By Kimberly Brown
The first responders of 9/11 have officially been put on the list as eligible to receive the vaccine this past Monday, but some feel the responders have been left on the back burner throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the coronavirus vaccine slowly becomes more available to Long Islanders, John Feal, founder of the FealGood Foundation who is also a 9/11 responder and advocate, explained how he thinks compromised 9/11 responders who have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, among other long-term illnesses, should not only receive eligibility but be a priority for the vaccine as well.
“Yes, absolutely, compromised responders should get priority for the vaccine,” Feal said. “On September 16, [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency head] Christine Todd Whitman said the air was safe to breathe and the water was safe to drink. It created a relaxed atmosphere where people didn’t feel the need to wear their masks anymore. If they weren’t lied to, then I wouldn’t see them as a priority, but definitely see them on the list. However, these men and women were lied to, and they got very sick.”
Weeks ago, Feal began urging members of Congress, Gov. Andrews Cuomo (D) and state senators to help the 9/11 responders who have not been getting vaccinated.
He doesn’t believe responders should be able to jump the line or take away the vaccine from others who need it. However, there are still affected responders who are sick from two decades ago and are too afraid to leave the house as they are already in danger from their previous illnesses.
“All of these responders who have debilitating illnesses from the toxins left in the air after 9/11 deserve to be included in the 65-and-up group,” Feal said. “The fact that they haven’t been included, is proof that America has tried to move on from that horrific day.”
Despite what the foundation has been able to accomplish throughout the years, not everything can be accomplished without some help from the federal and state governments. Feal explained how he’s spent more than a decade talking to elected officials who haven’t shown much urgency when it comes to aiding the 9/11 responders in the aftermath they have had to face.
His passion and determination for 9/11 responders is shown through his work. So far, 13 pieces of legislation have been passed in various legislatures, according to him, and a memorial park built in Nesconset. The foundation has also donated over $5 million to 9/11 responders and organizations.
“My mother raised me to never back down from a fight, but to also be respectful,” Feal said. “When we got our first bill passed we were like the little engine that could, and now 13 bills later we’re like that big engine that did.”