Soldiers and Airmen from the Connecticut National Guard, who have been serving on the front line of the ongoing pandemic response, began receiving their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine at Bradley Air National Guard Base Jan. 2, 2021 in accordance with the Department of Defense vaccine distribution plan.
According to a DoD press release, the vaccine distribution was prioritized for personnel in accordance to CDC guidelines, including: “those providing direct medical care, maintaining essential national security and installation functions, deploying forces, and those beneficiaries at the highest risk for developing severe illness from COVID-19.”
Receiving the vaccine was optional for everyone and those who opted in reported having no serious side effects other than the peace of mind knowing they now have the opportunity to keep their friends, family, neighbors, and themselves safe from this deadly virus.
Brigadier Gen. Ralph Hedenberg, chief of staff for the Connecticut National Guard, said the vaccine allows us to finally go on the offensive after ten months of needing to wear masks, remaining socially distant, washing our hands, and worrying we might still get sick from the virus.
“In over 35 years of being in the military, I’ve taken a lot of shots and this was, without a doubt, the one that had the least effect on me … there was no pain in my arm and no ill effects from it,” said Hedenberg. “This is our first opportunity where we can go on the offensive against COVID and I encourage everyone to take the shot.”
In these uncertain times, the vaccine offers a doorway which will allow us to return to the norms and activities we cherished in the times prior to the outbreak. Despite this, the rollout of the vaccine has been strained by controversy and misinformation regarding its safety.
The hesitation for receiving the vaccine for some stems from the fact that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not granted its full approval for any of the COVID-19 vaccines currently available. Army Capt. Joseph Zell, a physician with the Connecticut National Guard said that during a pandemic, the FDA has the ability to grant an emergency use authorization (EUA) for any vaccine if the benefits outweigh any possible risks.
“The vaccine’s safety profile has been rigorously studied and it outweighs the risk of a COVID infection,” said Zell, who, outside of the military, works at Yale University specializing in the study of occupational environmental exposures, specifically COVID-19. “The COVID-19 vaccine … has been deemed so much safer than the virus that the FDA has said ‘we’re going to give this vaccine an EUA approval; it’s that important that we start putting it into our citizens.”
The administration of the COVID-19 vaccine is just the latest preventative measure the Connecticut National Guard has taken to keep its Guardsmen safe during the pandemic. Shortly after the first cases were reported in the state, the Guard partnered with Yale University to conduct quantitative antibody testing, which allowed doctors to better study how the virus spread, any potential risk factors for infection, and identifying any neutralizing antibodies that could be used to determine immunity.
Also, toward the beginning of the summer, after a polymerase chain reaction test – or PCR test – was developed, an initiative was created to test each Guardsmen for the virus whenever they entered or left state active duty and annual training.
The vaccine provides the next step in defeating the virus, but we’re not out of the woods yet. Until we can get enough immunizations into the general public, it’s important to maintain the guidelines issues by the CDC to help stop the spread: wear a mask, maintain your social distance, and practice good hygiene by washing your hands.