PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, Calif. – After nearly a year of playing defense against COVID-19, the Presidio of Monterey is fighting back against the novel coronavirus, as medics from the local California Medical Detachment began jabbing the shoulders of eligible personnel with a vaccine this month.
Critical medical and emergency services personnel – including the Presidio’s police, firefighters and security guards – were first in line for their dose of the vaccine. But also leading the charge to showcase the safety and importance of the COVID-19 vaccine, was the garrison command team, Col. Varman S. Chhoeung and Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Londers.
“I did this for my family, my team and my community,” Chhoeung said after receiving his shot this week.
Chhoeung’s vaccination marks one of about 2000 COVID-19 vaccine doses already administered by the CALMED clinic. The clinic is currently processing roughly 200 shots a day.
“We became a hub site. That means we can receive the vaccine directly from the manufacturer, and it allows us to vaccinate eligible beneficiaries in the Monterey area,” said Lt. Col. Chani A. Cordero, CALMED’s vaccine director.
Those beneficiaries include 18,000 eligible military, DOD civilian, retiree and Tricare beneficiaries in the Monterey area. The clinic also supports operations from 130 miles north in Concord to 80 miles south in King City.
Cordero said the vaccination site, which runs like a well-oiled machine out of the Weckerling Center, didn’t arise out of thin air. She said that transforming the historic officer’s club into the frontline against the globe’s invisible enemy was a result of weeks of preparation.
Cordero called that process a “…crawl, walk, run…”
“How do we get people through to get a shot as quick as possible, ensure that we provide safe, quality care, and provide the documentation that’s required? Those were the questions we had to answer,” she said.
What first began as a rough sketch on a whiteboard soon became simulated dry runs. Medical administration meshed with medical care to create a mobile coronavirus-fighting clinic within CALMED.
Cordero said everything was ready to go when disaster struck. On the first day of CALMED’s public vaccines, a torrent of rain and wind destroyed the vaccination site. But then, instead of delaying the much needed vaccine, the team’s muscle memory kicked in, and within minutes they had created a new vaccination site.
“We were up and running again in 30 minutes,” Cordero said. “Weeks of hard work and planning paid off.”
By the end of the week the Weckerling Center looked like it had been servicing vaccines for months rather than just a few days.
Chris Stephenson, a captain in the Presidio fire department, was one of the first to benefit from CALMED’s team of planners and quick thinkers. He received the vaccine the first day he was eligible, and said that he hopes the vaccines will allow him to travel more freely to visit his family in Hawaii.
Stephenson also said that while the vaccine will make his job as firefighter safer, COVID-19 never changed his and his fellow firefighters’ promise to protect the community.
“It’s still been business as usual for us,” Stephenson said. “COVID-19 is an added risk but it hasn’t stopped us from going out and saving lives, but hopefully this vaccine will help mitigate some of our risks.”
Cordero said that coming from a large military, serving was never a question, but being able to help her fellow Soldiers and her community is what has kept her in uniform now past the standard 20-year retirement mark.
“This, making sure our people get vaccines, really makes me feel like our work matters,” said Cordero.