By Elizabeth Kearns, Naval Support Activity Washington
WASHINGTON, DC – Through collaboration with Naval Medical Forces Atlantic and Naval Health Clinic Quantico, a response team dispatched from Walter Reed National Medical Center has administered more than 2,000 COVID-19 vaccines onboard Washington Navy Yard since Friday, April 16.
The team provided first doses of the Pfizer vaccine to service members, retirees, Department of Defense civilians, DOD contractors and military family members from many commands in the DC metro area. Vaccinations continue through April 21.
“With a short planning timeline, I’m incredibly impressed by the efforts of the medical team, the NSAW staff, and volunteers from our tenant commands to make this effort successful,” said Capt. Grahame Dicks, Naval Support Activity Washington commanding officer. “The more people we can get vaccinated, the safer our installations will be. And most importantly, we will make continued progress in beating back the pandemic.”
Unanticipated administrative challenges created longer-than-expected wait times during the first few hours of the event on Friday. The team quickly resolved those issues, creating a smooth check-in process for the remainder of the five-day event.
On Friday morning, vaccine recipients formed a line that snaked throughout the historic base. For many appointment holders, excitement at the prospect of building immunity tempered the frustration of waiting.
“I feel pretty good,” said Amalia Seiders, a DOD civilian employee of Naval Sea Systems Command. “I feel like I’m doing my civic duty.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the mRNA vaccine provides immunity by teaching the body’s cells how to make a protein that is found on the surface of the coronavirus. While the protein itself does not cause disease, its presence prompts the immune system to build antibodies which will fight against the virus that causes COVID-19, should coronavirus enter the body in the future.
Researchers estimate that the Pfizer vaccine is 95% effective at preventing diagnosable COVID-19 illnesses. It is projected to significantly reduce the recipient’s risk of hospitalization and death, in addition to reducing the risk of adverse health impacts that could result from even a mild infection.
But for many, immunity through vaccination is not only about protecting themselves.
“Just trying to do my part,” said Information Systems Technician 3rd Class Tristan Bell, a Sailor assigned to the Office of Naval Intelligence. “My parents are older, so I’m getting (the vaccine) so that if I see them, I won’t put them in any harm.”
Vaccine recipients remarked that the event was a morale boost, bringing optimism and a tangible step forward after an anxiety-ridden year.
While waiting for the requisite 15 minutes of observation following his injection, Lt. Cmdr. Julio Vargas described his overall emotion as “alleviated… peace of mind, just reassurance.”
The new arrival to the Pentagon cited a year of struggles to which many parents can relate – trying to keep his kindergartener focused on virtual learning and simultaneously entertaining an energetic preschooler, all while Vargas and his spouse managed their own professional responsibilities through telework.
“I think I’ve been to the office only about four times in the past year,” said Mike Pletke, an environmental engineer with Naval Operations’ Energy and Environmental Readiness Division. “Basically, (receiving the vaccine) will open up my life again.”
Sailors and civilians alike reflected on the major life events that could not be celebrated or observed as usual during the past year, such as a godchild being born and loved ones becoming ill or dying.
“We’re looking forward to getting back together and celebrating some of those people that we’ve lost, as well as embrace those that we’ve been apart from,” said Sebastian Warren, a DOD contractor with JRC Integrated Systems. “Overall, getting this vaccine means that I’m contributing to the larger effort to eradicate this disease.”
Their patience while standing in the long line was reflective of their overall patience about remaining committed to pandemic safety precautions, even after vaccination.
The CDC advises that highest levels of immunity are achieved two weeks following the final dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Furthermore, mask policies and restrictions related to health protection condition level remain in place, even for those who are fully immunized.
“I understand that we’re not going to have any type of normality until most of the population is vaccinated,” Vargas said, “but to be honest, I look forward to going out for a run without having a mask on my face, or having a cup of coffee out in the open.”
Each vaccine administered brings us one step closer.
Appointments are still available for the final two days of the Washington Navy Yard vaccination event, April 20-21, 2021. DOD-affiliated personnel can register online via the Defense Health Agency’s appointing portal: https://informatics-stage.health.mil/COVAX/.