Picatinny Arsenal distributed its first doses of the coronavirus disease 2019 vaccine Feb. 10 in accordance with the Department of Defense phased distribution plan.
According to the plan, some of the first to be vaccinated were emergency services personnel, healthcare professionals, personnel scheduled for overseas deployments, as well as seniors 75 years and older. More than 150 Picatinny personnel were vaccinated on the first day.
The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines arrived on post Feb. 8 and were initially scheduled for distribution Feb. 9 through 12. However, distribution dates were rescheduled for Feb. 10 and 12 due to inclement weather.
“Picatinny, along with the DoD, remains committed to protecting our service members and families around the globe, safeguarding our national security capabilities and supporting the nation’s response to this pandemic,” said Picatinny Arsenal Commanding General Brig. Gen. Vincent F. Malone II. “I welcome the news of the initial arrival of this vaccine and encourage everyone to take part in this effort.”
COVID-19 vaccinations are voluntary. Members of the garrison scheduled appointments for those who opted to be vaccinated. The Picatinny Arsenal Occupational Health Clinic, along with a physician assistant from the Combat Capabilities Development Command Armaments Center, distributed the vaccines.
The COVID-19 vaccines were delivered from Keller Army Community Hospital at West Point, N.Y., where they were kept in an ultra-low storage freezer at minus 80 degrees Celsius.
“The Pfizer vaccine requires ultra-low freezing temperatures to store it, which is not readily available within our community,” said Dr. James Bilello, Picatinny Arsenal Occupational Health physician. “Once the vaccine is taken out of the ultra-low storage freezer, it only has a life of 120 hours or five days. We cannot have excess vaccines because they cannot be stored beyond those five days.”
Prior to vaccination, all participants were given a briefing, a COVID-19 Screening and Immunization Documentation form, and a Coronavirus Vaccine Emergency Use Authorization Fact Sheet, said Karen Steffanie, Picatinny Arsenal Occupational Health Clinic nurse.
Upon receiving the vaccine, individuals with a history of adverse or allergic reactions to any vaccines or injectable therapy were observed for 30 minutes. If there were no history of adverse or allergic reactions, they were observed for 15 minutes, based on information revealed on their questionnaires. All were provided with instructions to continue monitoring themselves and to follow up with their own primary care physicians regarding any concerning after-effects of the vaccine. They were also provided with an appointment to return in three weeks for a second dose of the vaccine.
“I think, as a community, as a country, we'll recover faster if more people get the vaccine,” said Bilello. “If most people get the vaccine, we'll slow down the rate of acquiring this disease. The only individuals we will not give the vaccine to, unless they have a note from their obstetrician, are pregnant women. We want to make sure it's okay to give them the vaccine and we'll need a note from their obstetrician saying they’re good to go.”
Although the vaccines have been tested for safety and efficacy using rigorous scientific protocols, the new COVID-19 vaccines have not been tested for safety or efficacy in women who are pregnant or nursing, said Steffanie. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology has recommended the vaccine be offered to pregnant women; however, women should have a conversation with their obstetricians as to the benefits of getting a vaccine versus their risks of contracting COVID.
Even after being vaccinated, all are encouraged to continue following the guidelines put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease. This includes frequent hand washing, avoiding crowds, wearing masks and maintaining social distancing.
Together, all of these actions will help us continue the fight against COVID-19 and help us maintain the readiness of our personnel, said Bilello.
The first to receive a COVID-19 vaccine on Picatinny Arsenal was Capt. Aleksander Kadow, U.S. Army Guard Picatinny Arsenal Chief of Guards. Steffanie, who inoculated Kadow, said she is glad to play a role in supporting and protecting the members of Picatinny Arsenal during this pandemic.
“I'm thrilled to be able to provide vaccines to the population that are opting in,” she said. “I believe that this will go a long way in elevating morale and helping people believe that we are actually moving forward in getting this pandemic under control.”
According to the DoD Population Prioritization Schema, which mirrors the CDC’s national plan, the following are the DoD Phase Levels for COVID-19 vaccinations:
Phase 1a includes all healthcare providers, healthcare support, emergency services and public safety personnel.
Phase 1b includes all who are a part of critical national capabilities, frontline essential workers, personnel preparing to deploy to locations outside the U.S., and authorized persons ages 75 and older.
Phase 1c includes authorized persons ages 65 to 74 years old, ages 16 to 64 with increased risk for severe illness as defined by the CDC, and essential workers not previously included in Phase 1a or 1b. All participants that are ages 16-64 with increased risk of severe illness (as defined by CDC) will be required to have a doctor's note attesting to their high risk condition(s).
Phase 2 consists of persons ages 16 and older not previously recommended for vaccination. This includes healthy uniformed personnel and those not otherwise mentioned that are authorized to receive vaccines from DoD.
At this time, Picatinny Arsenal is focused on vaccinating those within Phases 1a and 1b. Vaccinations are voluntary and all individuals will be seen by appointment only.
“The garrison, in coordination with Team Picatinny organizations, have been working together to build a list of personnel in order of priority based on the prioritization information we have received. We will work down the list – keeping in mind that receiving the vaccine is voluntary – until we either exhaust the initial supply of doses or exhaust the pool of eligible employees,” said Malone. “If you would like to be vaccinated and have an opportunity to do so outside of Picatinny channels, that is progress toward the goal, and I encourage you to take the first opportunity available.”