FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – Garrison employees from across Fort Campbell lined up outside the Wilson Theater Jan. 22, clutching paperwork, wearing face masks and greeting one another from a distance, as they waited their turn to get the first of two COVID-19 vaccinations.
Tori Coria, an infant and toddler child care specialist for the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation was vaccinated Jan. 22 and was excited as she left the theater.
“I take care of military Families and children,” Coria said. “I actually am a grad student, studying public health, so I think it’s really important that people listen to the science and the research they’ve done on the vaccine, so we can get back to our normal and keep people safe and healthy and stop the deaths.”
Additional vaccination site
The movie theater at 95 Bastogne Ave. was recently opened as a mass vaccination site on Fort Camp-bell, capable of accommodating hundreds of people each weekday.
“We planned for about two weeks to execute this,” said Sgt. Maj. Chris Douglas, who is part of the operational planning team responsible for vaccine implementation at Wilson Theater.
“That included everything from the logistics aspect of getting cold storage refrigerators into the theater, to ordering all the medical supplies and getting our medical professionals trained in both the administrative tasks and the actual administration of the vaccine,” Douglas said.
Post officials were notified at the end of December that Blanchfield Army Community Hospital and the Fort Campbell community would receive the Pfizer vaccine, Douglas said.
“That is in part due to our cold-storage capabilities and the distribution plan developed by the Army and the Defense Health Agency,” he said. “That two weeks’ [notice] allowed us to get this vaccine site up and running and make sure we are providing this service in the nice, efficient manner the military is often associated with.”
To not overwhelm BACH, Wilson Theater was selected as an offsite vaccination location that will be manned by Soldiers and medics from 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), he said.
“We have our medical providers, our doctors and nurses and physicians assistants, as well as our Army medics and other medical specialties manning this offsite location,” Douglas said.
The Rakkasans were selected based on their training schedule, he said. Most active-duty Soldiers and civilian employees will be vaccinated at Wilson Theater.
The additional space at Wilson Theater will help Fort Campbell meet the demand for vaccinations as soon as supplies warrant. The theater can accommodate 500 to 700 vaccine patients a day, which more than doubles the number that could be vaccinated at BACH alone, Douglas said.
Wilson Theater has space for waiting outside, where temperatures are measured and clients can be briefed on what to expect as they move from station-to-station to make sure they have the proper documents and identification so their vaccinations are properly documented.
Only those who have been contacted by officials directing them where and when to get vaccinated should expect to receive the vaccine. Walk-ins are not permitted.
Vaccinations in phases
The first phase of vaccination included health care workers and emergency responders on the front line of the pandemic, according to the Department of Defense schedule. Phase 1B is now underway at Fort Campbell and includes Soldiers preparing for deployment, front line essential workers including those in education and youth and child services and food service workers, as well as TRICARE beneficiaries 75 or older.
Although the vaccine is not mandatory, garrison officials and health experts at Fort Campbell urge everyone to get a vaccine, if they qualify, to reduce the chance of spreading the virus.
“We are essentially manning a vaccine clinic for the COVID-19 vaccine, based on the availability of the vaccine on Fort Campbell, as well as based on the tier station developed by the Defense Health Agency and Army Medical Command,” Douglas said.
Although a COVID-19 immunization clinic at BACH will continue to operate, no one should go there without an appointment, said Laura Boyd, BACH Public Affairs officer. Staff will reach out to eligible patients as their turn arrives and direct them when and where to go.
Douglas said the additional theater location will ensure that eligible Soldiers, the civilian workforce and, in the next phase, high-risk beneficiaries and dependents of active-duty service members have a place to be screened, processed, vaccinated and then monitored for 15 minutes.
Sense of security
Avery Orange, a retired first sergeant and DOD employee with the Army Field Support Battalion, said his first vaccination was easy.
“I know I needed to receive the shot because I am high-risk,” Orange said. “It was painless. The staff was pleasant. It was a simple process.”
Kyle Jerkins, supervisor of roads and grounds and landfills with the Directorate of Public Works also got his first vaccination Jan. 22 and is eager to have his twin 16-year-old daughters and wife get theirs as soon as they can. He is retired from the Air Force Reserve and has worked at Fort Campbell for 13 years.
“I had to get the shot,” Jerkins said. “I volunteered just to show my Family, cohorts and subordinates that I did it and be an example.”
Daniel Rennaker, DPW engineering equipment operator, sat in a row of the theater, surrounded by blocked off chairs until his 15 minutes had passed with no adverse reactions to the vaccine.
“It felt great,” Rennaker said. “It was just a little bite. It was a small pain for a great sense of security.”
Dr. Nick Patterson, BACH inpatient pharmacist, said two pharmacy assistants constantly mix vaccines in a vaccine room because it takes about one minute to mix each dose. Their attention to detail has al-lowed BACH to get about 25% more vaccine from each vial and that means more vaccines for others.
“The vaccine is still in a trial phase at this point until we get the long-term data to see how long it’s going to be before we need to vaccinate again,” Patterson said. “It’s not that the safety of this vaccine is questionable in any way. It’s how long it’s going to last until you have to have another dose because part of any medication we get approved is how we are going to have to dose it, how often, and what dose each time.”
Major Jill Spackma, chief of Soldier Health Services at BACH, said the staff has read studies and re-search on the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to understand their safety and efficacy.
“We understand it has not been rushed as far as the vaccine safety goes. We understand that yes, this is a safe vaccine,” Spackma said. “If we didn’t believe in it, we wouldn’t have gotten it ourselves.”