ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. –Soldiers and civilians identified as critical health care, emergency and public safety personnel stationed here received their first of two COVID-19 vaccine shots as part of Kirk Army Health Clinic’s vaccine rodeo held Jan. 12.These personnel are part of a global effort to help the Department of Defense and the Army conduct a phased-in vaccination program for millions within the DOD to mitigate the spread of the virus.The two-phase vaccine rollout breaks down as follows:Phase 1a includes health care providers, health care support, emergency services and public safety personnel.Phase 1b includes mission essential personnel supporting critical national capabilities, personnel deploying out of the continental U.S., and essential support personnel.Phase 1c includes high risk beneficiariesPhase 2 includes the healthy populationParticipation in the vaccine effort is voluntary, but all eligible recipients are strongly encouraged to get vaccinated.“It’s my strong wish that everyone who is eligible gets it, because the sooner people get vaccinated, the sooner we can put an end to this pandemic,” said Dr. W. Thomas Frank, Kirk’s chief of Preventive Medicine and Aberdeen Proving Ground’s public health emergency officer. “The bottom line is what are you more afraid of – the virus or the vaccine?”As part of Kirk’s rollout effort, Frank held a question-and-answer session with eligible recipients. He said the most common concerns voiced were over vaccine side effects.“The most common one is your arm is going to hurt - and that is almost universal,” said Frank. “The intensity varies. After I was vaccinated my arm hurt for about a day afterwards. Seldom does that pain or discomfort last for more than a day, and it usually doesn't appear until several hours after you've had the vaccine.”According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, arm pain and swelling are common in the area of the shot, and some people may also experience fever, chills, tiredness and headache. The CDC says side effects may feel like the flu and even affect the ability to do daily activities, but they should go away in a few days.With most COVID-19 vaccines, recipients will need two shots in order for them to be fully protected from COVID-19. The CDC recommends getting the second shot, even if you had some side effects after the first shot, unless a medical official recommends against it.According to the CDC, it takes time for the body to build protection against COVID-19 after vaccination. COVID-19 vaccines that require two shots may not fully protect an individual until a week or two after the second shot.The CDC reports that a small number of people have experienced severe allergic reactions—such as anaphylaxis—after getting a COVID-19 vaccine.Frank explained the risk of anaphylaxis is very low, but anyone with a previous history of allergic reactions to any vaccination should consult their healthcare provider before getting the COVID-19 vaccine.Everyone who receives the COVID-19 vaccine is required to wait at least 15 minutes after administration to ensure they have no adverse reaction, said Frank. If the vaccine recipient has a prior history of adverse reactions to immunizations, they are required to wait 30 minutes.Frank said others voiced concerns that the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines are using new technology to attack the COVID-19 virus. Soldiers wonder if the vaccine can affect their DNA.According to the CDC, the vaccine technology is not new. Researchers have been studying and working with messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) technology in vaccines for decades.“It's basically a recipe to create a certain protein that your body will then make using muscle cells, which will then produce this protein and release it into the bloodstream,” said Frank.Frank explained the vaccine contains a recipe to make the spike protein produced by the COVID-19 virus. This then triggers the immune system to create antibodies against that protein.“So, when you are exposed to the virus, you have those antibodies circulating and they prevent the virus from invading and infecting your cells,” said Frank.According to the CDC, the messenger RNA never enters the nucleus of the cell, which is where the DNA (genetic material) is kept and therefore does not affect the recipient’s DNA. The cell breaks down and gets rid of the mRNA soon after it is finished using the instructions to make the protein.The CDC has a comprehensive web page that breaks down how mRNA vaccines were developed and how they work.Some of the Soldiers participating in the vaccine rodeo said they were feeling a little reluctant, but they wanted to get vaccinated to aid in the protection of their family and unit from COVID-19.“Some of my concerns were long-term effects, and I might be taking a risk,” said Sgt. First Class Drew McDowell, an Explosives Ordnance Disposal operations specialist with from the 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives (CBRNE) Command here. “In spite of this, I wanted to do it to avoid long quarantines before deployment and to protect my family.”It’s still important for COVID-19 recipients to continue all COVID-19 transmission mitigation strategies.“All Department of Army personnel will be required to continue the current COVID-19 risk mitigating strategies, including the wearing of masks and maintaining physical distance, even after receiving the COVID-19 vaccination,” said Dr. Raul Mirza, director of Clinical Public Health and Epidemiology at the Army Public Health Center here. “Personnel will be notified by their commanders when it is safe to discontinue COVID-19 risk mitigating strategies, a decision that will be based on the regional COVID-19 epidemiology variables described in Force Health Protection guidance.”Some Soldiers also said despite their reluctance they wanted to set the example.“I think it’s important to lead by example,” said 20th CBRNE 1st Sgt. John Binot. “When young Soldiers see their leaders getting shots, they will follow suit.”“At first I had some concerns, and I talked to my husband and my mom,” said Sgt. Mary Bachus, a signal support specialist with 20th CBRNE. “He’s reluctant to get the vaccine, but I’m hoping if he sees that I’m okay, he’ll want to get it too. We came to protect everyone we can. I think the benefits outweigh the risk.”Spec. Mia Sapone, a communications specialist with 20th CBRNE, agreed.“I was worried about how quickly it was developed,” said Sapone. “You can’t expect anything to get better if you don’t take a risk.”The Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization of the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines. Mirza says the vaccines are safe and effective, and were developed without compromise to safety, scientific rigor, or medical and scientific ethics.“The DOD has demonstrated full confidence in the COVID-19 vaccines by its commitment to ensure the total workforce is offered access to the vaccines as they become available,” said Mirza.Lt. Col. Anterrio Gainwell, Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Team chief for 20th CBRNE, believes the science is legit and wants to signal to his family in Mississippi and break the stereotype of people who might say “they aren’t going to stick it in my arm.”Gainwell said he was heading to a meeting when he was told he could get the vaccine and he beat feet to get it.“You can’t sit on the side and complain if you’re not doing your part to support the cause,” said Gainwell. “There’s a difference between selfish and selfless. This is my selfish act for a selfless reason. People first is the Army’s priority. The only way to put people first is to build up our immunity.”The CDC is recommending vaccine recipients also download the V-Safe After Vaccination Health Checker application to their smartphones to learn more about the vaccines and to help remind them when to get their second dose. The application uses text messaging and web surveys to provide personalized health check-ins to COVID-19 vaccine recipients. Participation helps keep COVID-19 vaccines safe — for recipients and for everyone. Anyone vaccinated in the last 6 weeks can participate in V-Safe. Download the app at https://vsafe.cdc.gov/.The Army Public Health Center COVID-19 vaccine page is also a one-stop shop for information and resources.The Army Public Health Center focuses on promoting healthy people, communities, animals and workplaces through the prevention of disease, injury and disability of Soldiers, military retirees, their families, veterans, Army civilian employees, and animals through population-based monitoring, investigations, and technical consultations.