NORTH PLATTE, Neb. – Nebraska Army National Guard Soldiers supporting the West Central District Health Department administered COVID-19 vaccine doses to railroad workers in a temporary mass vaccination clinic Feb. 25 at Union Pacific railroad's Bailey Yard.
More than 260 Union Pacific employees voluntarily received their first of two vaccine doses. The vaccine is being offered to transportation industry workers under Phase 1b of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services statewide distribution plan.
"Union Pacific is among the first Class I railroads to provide COVID-19 vaccine on-site," said Dr. Laura Gillis, UP's chief medical officer and general director.
"We worked with local health entities to make this happen, and it was great to see our employees do their part to ultimately end this pandemic. We'd like to thank the National Guard for their help in this important effort."
Bailey Yard is the largest railroad classification yard in the world, handling more than 7,000 rail cars every 24 hours. Near the center of North America, it is a hub of east-west and north-south corridors and a key component of Union Pacific's rail system that spans 23 states. Its operations and repair shops operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
"I think it's a very important and intricate part of the community," said Sgt. Michael Fischer, a combat medic assigned to the 92nd Troop Command, Nebraska Army National Guard.
Fischer said it's important to protect the workers, and the mass clinic capability makes vaccinations possible even in the fast-paced environment of the railyard. With assistance from the National Guard, health department staffers have also conducted mass clinics in a theatre, a high school, and a hydroelectric power plant.
"It was a good thing to do, and it was convenient for them," Fischer said. "It's convenient for us, too."
Fischer is one of four Guardsmen who have assisted the West Central District Health Department with the vaccine rollout since mid-January.
"We have two of them helping with clerical work and two helpings put vaccine into arms," said Shannon Vanderheiden, WCDHD executive director. "What that allows our whole team to do is amazing. At the railroad, for example, at one point we had given 140 vaccine doses in about 45 minutes."
The Nebraska National Guard and Union Pacific railroad have been outstanding partners with the health department since the early stages of the pandemic, according to Vanderheiden.
In the past year, the Guard has helped distribute personal protective equipment and stood up mobile testing teams. The railroad has upheld standards for preventing the spread of COVID among its workforce of more than 2,000 employees in North Platte, many of whom must travel across the country in their work.
"WCDHD would like to thank the Nebraska National Guard and Union Pacific Railroad for their continued support in mitigating the spread of COVID-19," the health director said. "We couldn't do it without them."