TAMPA, Fla. — While more and more people are getting doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, some are raising awareness about the plight of those in the 9/11 community.
Michael Barasch, managing attorney at Barasch & McGarry, said he represents more than 20,000 survivors and first responders across the country. Many of them developed health conditions like respiratory issues or cancer, in the years since.
“If you don’t protect these people and they are exposed they’re gonna die. I’ve already lost over 100 clients. I don’t want to lose anymore,” he said.
Barasch said more than 1,500 of his clients are in Florida.
“Our government owes these people a debt of gratitude and it’s a moral responsibility for the government to take care of them,” he said.
While Florida recently expanded where someone a physician considers extremely vulnerable to COVID-19 can receive a vaccine, Barasch wants to ensure access to appointments.
“Give the 9-11 community a hotline number for them that they can call and be guaranteed an appointment and secondly you can give these shots these vaccinations out at any WTC health program facility it’s all throughout Florida,” he said.
Jose Sanchez is one responder who lives part of the year in Clearwater. He served in the Army National Guard, responding to Ground Zero on Sept. 12 working search and recovery, before serving overseas several years later.
“When they talk about people with an underlying condition I have it all. I’m like the walking medical journal,” he said.
That’s why he’s taken the pandemic seriously, getting a vaccine through the VA recently.
“I think the more we get people vaccinated and you know what still where your mask,” he said.
Meanwhile, Robert Marrero knows the impact of the virus firsthand. He spent more than a month hospitalized, nearly three weeks of it on a ventilator. Around a year after he first fell ill, he said he’s still dealing with the impacts.
“Every day’s different. This is a can of worms that I’ve never experienced in my life,” he said, noting he now has scarring in both lungs and is more limited in activities these days.
He’s also a 9/11 responder. He worked as a New York corrections officer helping to tag remains in the morgue.
“It’s been a battle. I’ve had numerous health issues. I once had my lung collapse. cancer. Always a heart issue. All of this stemmed from 9-11 and my asthma just progressively kept getting worse,” he said.
He’s happy to see the expanded access to the vaccine for those medically vulnerable and hopes to get it when he is able, too.
“Just to be more on the safe side for me and my family,” he said.