SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – Military and civilian Airmen as well as contracted mission partners rolled up their sleeves here last week to be among the first at Sheppard AFB to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
The installation received its first shipment of the Pfizer vaccine on Jan. 20 and soon began administering the serum in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Department of Defense guidelines. The DoD prevents disclosing the number of vaccines received or those administered to beneficiaries.
Those receiving the vaccine will get their second dose 21 days after the first.
Brig. Gen. Kenyon Bell, installation and 82nd Training Wing commander, said he was heartened by the response of volunteers who chose to receive the vaccine, including himself.
“It’s encouraging to see our Airmen – military and civilian – and mission partners come forward and take the first step in this process,” he said. “We understand that it is an individual decision, but it’s an important one that goes toward protecting ourselves, our families, our units and our local communities.”
The general went on to say necessary steps have been taken for almost a year now to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 on the installation with two priorities in mind.
“Our first priority will always be protecting our people who enable our missions,” he said. “This vaccine helps us safeguard our national security capabilities and responsibilities – after all, combat capability starts right here at Sheppard AFB.”
Col. Kevin McCal, 82nd Medical Group commander, said it’s important for people to self-educate regarding the vaccines from sources such as the CDC, manufacturer fact sheets and the FDA. He also encouraged people to watch the MDG Facebook Live event recorded on Jan. 19, 2021, which is still available to view, as well as information on the Sheppard AFB website found at www.sheppard.af.mil/Coronavirus/COVID-19-Vaccine-Information/.
“Concerns of the unknown long term side effects of receiving the vaccine has been expressed by many; however, it is just as important for members to also consider the unknown long term effects of the actual virus,” he said. “In addition, individuals should consider receiving the vaccination if they are or will be in contact with family members and friends who are considered high-risk for severe illness from COVID-19.”
McCal said beneficiaries in Phase 1a of the DoD population schema – medical, first responder and public safety personnel – were vaccinated at the medical clinic since it’s a relatively small demographic.
The next phase, however, presented a little more logistical maneuvering to manage larger numbers and other concerns.
“As we moved to Phase 1b, the number of personnel within this category required a mass immunization processing line that included a location that would support monitoring of the potential side effects of a large group while following COVID-19 social distancing protocols, thus, the base theater was utilized,” he said. “Other logistical considerations included maintaining vaccines within a correct temperature range at all times, planning that incorporated a process to ensure every vaccine dose was utilized and none wasted, and prescreening and documentation of every dose given to Sheppard personnel.”
He said medical providers were on site to answer any questions beneficiaries had regarding the vaccine and their medical history.
McCal is cautiously optimistic with the rollout of the vaccine.
“This was a great start,” he said. “However, with herd immunity – 70-80 percent of the population receives vaccinations – as is our goal across DoD.”