JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas –Instructors, staff and leaders assigned to the U.S. Army Medical Center of Excellence (MEDCoE) received notification to report to Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC), Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, to receive the COVID-19 vaccine starting on Sunday, January 31, 2021.
At the time, the much anticipated notice came as BAMC progressed from vaccinating Phase 1a-eligible personnel to vaccinating military personnel and DA Civilians eligible for Phase 1b, in accordance with the Department of Defense and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s phased vaccine rollout recommendations. Simultaneously, Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center continued vaccinating their eligible military and civilian personnel and civilian TRICARE beneficiaries age 75 and older.
Lt. Col. Nadia Pearson, the MEDCoE Command Surgeon and Chief of the Force Health Protection Cell, said that while supply and recent weather delays in San Antonio have determined how many eligible MEDCoE personnel have received the vaccine in the last month, she is optimistic at the progress they have made up to this point and does not feel that the weather delays will have a long-lasting effect on BAMC’s overall vaccination plan.
“Many of those that received the first dose had their second shot postponed due to base closures during the ice and snow storms,” said Pearson. “It is important for people to know that there is a window to receive your second vaccine.” The optimal window between each dose is believed to be between 21 to 42 days based on current guidelines.
So when will you get the shot?
To keep all of the phases, tiers, and by-name appointments organized, the MEDCoE G3 and Force Health Protection sections have worked hard to coordinate with BAMC and U.S. Army North (ARNORTH), the senior mission command, to prioritize the MEDCoE population who is in close contact with the Soldier trainee population to be among some of the first within the organization to receive the shot. Additionally, unit commanders and supervisors provided BAMC by-name lists of their personnel organized by phase priority. In turn, those personnel will receive an appointment date and time slot through TRICARE online or their unit.
This week, BAMC announced that the COVID vaccination site is no longer on the BAMC campus; it is now located on main post Fort Sam Houston in the Training Support Center, Building 4110, 2536 Garden Avenue. Whether for an appointment that was postponed, or for anyone seeking their first appointment, Pearson recommends first checking with the unit to determine your prioritization and logging into the patient portal on Tricareonline.com, if eligible.
“Do not just walk in,” she said. “This is a very controlled process, and timeslots are tracked by name.”
While supply of the vaccine continues to be the limiting factor right now, “BAMC is working to ensure everyone who wants the vaccine will be able to take advantage of this opportunity sooner rather than later,” said Pearson. “We are working hard to get shots in arms.”
Command Sgt. Major Clark Charpentier, the MEDCoE Command Sergeant Major, received his first shot in January and reported to BAMC to complete the two-shot series in early February. He said allowing priority MEDCoE personnel to receive the shot is a step in the right direction in MEDCoE’s fight against COVID-19. All MEDCoE trainees are screened and tested into the relative safety of the, so-called training safety bubble. Instructors and Drill Sergeants, many of whom live off-base, come in and out of this safety bubble.
“This is incredibly important because it will provide opportunities for our instructors, our drill sergeants and everyone else who is in close contact with our students every day to be protected and protect their Families,” said Charpentier.
Charpentier said he is thankful to the BAMC health care providers, staff, logisticians, leadership and Army North leaders for all they have done to tackle the monumental task of administering the COVID vaccine to Soldiers, DA Civilians and beneficiaries. He also lauded MEDCoE planners, staff, the Force Health Protection Cell and the Command Surgeon for their efforts to keep personnel informed on how to protect themselves from COVID-19, to include the many benefits of vaccines, and for painstakingly maintaining a tracking system to ensure the MEDCoE vaccine program runs as smoothly as possible.
Rather than just being on the receiving end of the shot, on Wednesday, February 24, MEDCoE began augmented personnel support at the BAMC vaccination site to assist in base-wide vaccination efforts.
“We are proud of what support we can offer to the JBSA-Fort Sam Houston vaccination site,” Charpentier said. MEDCoE will provide several dozen vaccinators, screeners, medical administrators, and medical providers at any given time on a rotational basis in support of the tasking that could last up to six months. Augmenters, that include medical military occupational specialties like Combat Medics (68W), Practical Nursing Specialists (68C), and Army Physician Assistants (65D), were given training by BAMC staff on the proper screening, preparation and vaccine administration procedures in advance of the tasking.
“We are postured to support this vital mission, which has potentially global implications, for as long as it takes.”
How can you support the Army COVID-19 fight? Charpentier and Pearson believe the best way for most personnel to support the mission is to get the shot as soon as it is offered.
“Realize that if you take the shot, you are going to help someone else; this is bigger than just you as an individual,” concluded Charpentier.
MEDCoE personnel who have questions about when they will receive the COVID-19 vaccination should contact their unit. Beneficiaries, aged 75 or older, should visit https://www.tricareonline.com to make an online appointment or call 210-916-9900 or 1-800-443-2262 (Option 8), Mondays through Fridays, from 6:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.