Natick, Ma. – Medical professionals with the U. S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine (USARIEM) here helped to protect Soldiers, Civilians, and the community by administering the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine on the Natick Soldier Systems Center.
While there were only a limited number of vaccines available, their efforts ensured all first responders and extremely high risk personnel, along with some mission essential personnel, on the installation received their first doses of the vaccine.
“The COVID-19 vaccine is instrumental in keeping our Soldiers ready, healthy, and fit to deploy to get the mission done,” said Maj. Robin Cushing, a physician assistant with the USARIEM Office of Medical Support and Oversight and the installation public health officer. “I strongly recommend the vaccine too as it is safe and effective, and an important tool for protecting yourself and those around you. The vaccine will not only protect the individual Soldier, but their battle buddies, their families, their community, and it will lower the public health risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The Natick work force is supporting logistical needs during the vaccinations, enabling doctors and nurses to concentrate on administering the shots.
“We’re helping in support of the whole installation,” said Cushing, “The nurses and providers at the clinic are doing the vaccinations. We’re just doing the planning and getting people in the door,” she explained.
“It’s gone very smooth,” said Vicki Junker, an occupational health nurse on the installation. “There are many moving pieces, so constant communication, synchronization, and planning is important,” she added.
The vaccine is given in two iterations. The Moderna vaccine, which was administered on NSSC, has a 28-day period between doses, Cushing explained. She said both doses combine to give the vaccine a 90-percent effectiveness rate.
Since there were more persons at NSSC than available doses, planners devised a priority list based on DOD guidelines and took into account specific mission requirements on the installation.
“We look at all the workers at Natick as one of the main priorities because the contributions to the military force is so significant,” Cushing said. “We look at the whole work force of the installation. And each of the commands prioritized those people based off of a very complex tiered list with subcategories.”
Those personnel who were unable to get the vaccine on the installation should monitor availability of the vaccine off-post and are encouraged to get the vaccine as soon as they are able to. In the meantime, the entire installation is contributing to the efforts to keep Soldiers, Civilians, and the surrounding communities safe from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. This team effort helps ensure a healthy work environment and hopefully soon a return to a more normal way of life, but it does not mean an immediate change.
“Though we have the vaccine, there will be a continued vigilance with protective gear,” said James Santoro, Natick chief of police, “Of course the personal protective equipment, to include face coverings and gloves, will probably be the normal for a long time.
The first line of defense to notice has been when entering the installation. Each person is asked to give a thumbs up or a thumbs down to a few questions.
“When military personnel, civilians, visitors and contractors arrive enter, questions are asked,” said Santoro. “Then the proper steps are followed if there is a risk. So far, we have had minimal issues and will continue to do so if all of us continue to work together to keep ourselves and others safe.”