Capt. Justin Harding, a physical therapist at Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center, is one of the first responders to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at Fort Hood, Texas. CRDAMC is currently giving vaccinations to first responders and high-risk patients. (Photo Credit: Mikaela Cade, CRDAMC Public Affairs) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT HOOD, Texas -- “They’re extremely positive and eager to get it.”

Those are the words used to describe patients’ reactions to the COVID vaccine being distributed at Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center, per Capt. Eduardo Mendez, a public health nurse and the officer-in-charge of the COVID-19 vaccines here.

Since vaccine distribution began here Dec. 15, after CRDAMC was selected as a pilot site to dispense the vaccine, first responders and high-risk patients have received the vaccine with no major side effects.

“There’s a small cost, which is a little bit of arm pain, but the benefit is enormous,” Col. Richard Malish, CRDAMC commander, said. “There’s really no reason not to get it.”

Mendez explained that while side effects vary from person to person, they are common with any vaccine because a person’s immune system is responding to the vaccine. Possible side effects include pain at the site of injection, headache, feeling tired, low-grade fever and body aches. He said a response is good because it is a sign that the patient’s body is engaging the vaccine.

The COVID-19 vaccine is given in two doses. Mendez said that the first dose allows the body to respond to the virus. The second dose, which is given 21-28 days following the first dose, further boosts the body’s immune response.

“The way this vaccine, any vaccine, works is a response from your immune system. Sometimes that response doesn’t last a long time,” he explained. “The second exposure, it creates that long-term muscle memory called a T-cell. The purpose of that second dose is to prolong how long your body will be protected.”

CRDAMC set up an Emergency Operations Center soon after COVID-19 began spreading, to ensure organized screenings, COVID-19 testing, treatment and vaccination. The EOC is comprised of active duty personnel and civilian leaders, healthcare administrators, nurses, logisticians, analysts and experts. Since the EOC was established in March 2020, they have coordinated testing for beneficiaries, while also coordinating all the testing for Soldiers preparing for deployment.

Retiree vaccinated
Retiree George Barnes receives a first dose of the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Fort Hood, Texas. The vaccine is a two-dose process. "The purpose of the second dose is to prolong how long your body will be protected," Capt. Eduardo Mendez, a public health nurse and officer-in-charge of the vaccination operation at Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center, said. (Photo Credit: Mikaela Cade, CRDAMC Public Affairs) VIEW ORIGINAL

Mendez said the entire process – from receiving to distributing the vaccine – has been smooth. As soon as they receive a tracking number to receive the vaccine, everyone begins coordinating what needs to be done to prepare for distribution.

“When we first get it, it’s negative 81 degrees and it remains so until we’re ready to execute,” Mendez added. “Once we are ready to execute, and we have enough people, it takes approximately 45 minutes to dilute.”

Malish said they are still in the process of inoculating first responders and high-risk patients. Once those are complete, they will open the inoculation up to others. High-risk patients include anyone over the age of 65, those with cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart conditions, pregnant, any diabetes and other immunocompromised states. Malish advised patients to check CRDAMC’s Facebook page,, for updates about the vaccine distribution. Until then, he said it is important to maintain social distancing protocols, wash hands often, disinfect surfaces and keep a watchful eye out for symptoms.

Symptoms vary, but may include a cough, sore throat, fever, headache, body aches, sneezing, runny nose, diarrhea, loss of taste or smell and shortness of breath. People with any of those symptoms should visit CRDAMC’s drive-thru testing center to be screened and tested.

Malish and Mendez discuss CRDAMC's vaccination operation at length in this week's episode of Fort Hood's Great Big Podcast. To listen, go to