Army medics volunteer at Pulaski County mass-vaccination initiative
Lisa Colon, a nurse at the General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital's Inpatient Behavioral Health Clinic, volunteers to assist with COVID-19 vaccinations Jan. 29 in St. Robert. More than 2,000 Pulaski County residents aged 65 and older were given their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine during the two-day event. (Photo Credit: Photo by Ryan Thompson) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Volunteers from Fort Leonard Wood’s professional medical community were on hand Jan. 29 and 30 at the St. Robert Municipal Center parking lot, supporting a Pulaski County Health Center mass COVID-19 vaccination initiative.

According to Deborah Baker, PCHC director, the goal of the event — which also received logistical support from the Missouri Air National Guard — was to provide 1,100 vaccinations each of the two days for patients aged 65 and older who registered ahead of time.

Baker said they came very close to meeting their goal — they provided 2,092 people in the county with their first COVID-19 vaccine — and that events like this are a “step in the right direction.”

“(The) goal was to vaccinate a large amount of people in a short amount of time,” she said. “It helps with building up immunity; the more people we can get vaccinated helps slow down the spread.”

The assistance from Fort Leonard Wood was much appreciated, she added.

“Being a military community gives us a lot of additional disciplines, expertise in the field,” Baker said. “Without their help, it would’ve been difficult.”

One of the volunteers who braved the cold, rainy weather Saturday was Nikkie Williams, a licensed practical nurse at the 43rd Adjutant General Battalion’s immunizations clinic. The Sallisaw, Oklahoma native said she is driven by a desire “to help people.”

“I think as a nurse or any kind of medical professional, we come into that field of work because we want to help people,” she said. “That’s our passion. For me, it’s my calling. I live in this community; I shop in this community — it’s my home. I want to give back and I want to take care of the people.”

Whether it’s the COVID-19 vaccine or a tetanus shot, “vaccines are important,” Williams said.

“They give you a fighting chance,” she said. “My daughter never had to go through the agony of chicken pox as a kid because of the varicella vaccine. I had chicken pox as a child and I remember spending weeks being miserable, crying — I have scars to this day from it. That vaccine kept my daughter and lots of other children these days from getting sick.”

Williams stressed “you cannot get COVID-19 from the vaccine.”

“Just like flu vaccines, the COVID-19 vaccine is not a live virus,” she said. “It’s not injecting the live virus into the body. There’s no chance — you can read the articles, medical journals, studies from doctors — it’s not going to give you the disease.”

Common cold-like symptoms for a few days after getting the vaccine are normal, Williams added.

“You’ve got to remember, your body is building antibodies to the vaccine you were given and those are just normal reactions,” she said. “It doesn’t mean you’re dying. It just means your body is working to build those antibodies to help you fight off what you’ve been vaccinated for.”

The medical director of the Harper Inprocessing Screening Clinic, Col. Mike Crum, also volunteered his Saturday to assist with the county’s effort to vaccinate against COVID-19.

Crum was a nurse in the Army Reserve for 33 years prior to retiring in 2019. He agreed to return to the Army in November for a six-month active-duty assignment here because “they had a need.”

“It all comes down to helping people,” he said. “My motto for getting the vaccine was ‘to stop this and get back to normal.’ St. Robert seems like a nice community — if this helps them get back on track, I’ll do whatever I can to help. We’re not going to get a handle on (COVID-19) until we get enough people vaccinated; it’s just going to keep spreading. We need to be proactive.”

Crum said mass-vaccination events are a good idea.

“It gives people in the community a chance to get the vaccine faster,” he said.

Williams agreed.

“It makes it more accessible,” she said. “You get in line; you sit in your car; you jam out to some music; play games on your phone, whatever, until it’s your turn to pull forward and get your shot. It’s great, and our community benefits.”

More information on vaccination efforts in the community can be found at www.facebook.com/pulaskicountyhealthcenter.