CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait -- Senior military leaders here joined the March 13 rollout of Operation Med Spear, which is the expansion of COVID-19 vaccination for all civilian and military personnel in the U.S. Central Command footprint.
"Operation Med Spear is something we have been working towards in this theater for many, many months," said Army Reserve Brig. Gen. Justin Swanson, who was vaccinated at the event, and is the deputy commanding general of the 1st Theater Sustainment Command.
"The vaccines recently came into CENTCOM and we are participating and 1st TSC is playing a big part in distributing the vaccine across the theater, so that every Soldier has the opportunity to have the vaccine," said Swanson, who is also the commanding general of the Army Reserve's 310th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), whose Soldiers staff the 1st TSC's operational command post, or 1st TSC-OCP, here.
Senior leaders were scheduled for their vaccinations to provide their Soldiers with a positive example, said the New Orleans native.
"Senior leaders--and any leaders--should always understand the dynamics of the situation," the general said. "In this situation, we have a safe vaccine that is ready to distribute to the public and CSM Gwin and I believe it is the right thing to do, so we can tamp down this virus."
Army Reserve Command Sgt. Maj. Keith Gwin is the senior enlisted advisor to Swanson, both at the 1st TSC-OCP and the 310th ESC.
"I would 100 percent advise and recommend to our Soldiers that it is safe," he said. "It is effective, and it will get us to the point of immunity as an organization we need to be."
Gwin said he credits the partnership between 1st TSC, 3rd Medical Command (Deployment Support) and the Defense Logistics Agency for getting the Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine into theater so fast.
"You have several thousand doses that came from the States via DLA and then once they got into theater--very quickly with the partnership with 3rd Medical, 1st TSC--all working together to get the vaccine out rapidly, so we can get it into arms," he said.
Army Col. John J. Herrman, the commander of Area Support Group Kuwait, said Operation Med Spear is essential to vaccinate as many Soldiers as possible.
"It is one of our highest priorities here at ASG-Kuwait," he said. "Without the vaccine, all we're going to do is continue to go up and down in terms of COVID-19 spikes."
Herrman said he felt fine after receiving his vaccine.
"Don't sweat it," he said. "The Army gives us lots of vaccines every year and this is just going to be another one--except that this one is building readiness and trying to get us to herd immunity."
Advantages of the Janssen Biotech COVID-19 vaccine
Army Reserve Maj. Gerald Connolly, a physician assistant with the 228th Combat Support Hospital assigned to the Troop Medical Clinic, said he was one of the medical professionals presenting the pre-vaccination briefing.
"Soldiers come in and fill out a questionnaire regarding the vaccine--it is essentially a screening to make sure No. 1, they want it, and No. 2, to make sure they don't have any medical conditions that would prevent them from getting the vaccine or putting them at a high risk," he said.
One advantage of the Janssen vaccine is that it is one shot, rather than the two shots required for other vaccines, he said.
When individuals come in, they are also given a fact sheet with important information about the Janssen Biotech's Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2, or SARS-CoV-2, vaccine, he said.
The Food and Drug Administration granted the Janssen vaccine an emergency use authorization Feb. 27 for individuals 18 and older after a 40,000-person trial. In that trial, which found the vaccine to be both safe and effective in preventing COVID-19, 20,000 people were given the Janssen vaccine and 20,000 were given a placebo.
Army Reserve Col. Jennifer Marrast Host, the commander of 3rd MED (DS), said her unit is the theater enabling command for COVID-19 vaccines. "We are in-charge of receiving, distributing and administering the vaccines."
The colonel said all of the Soldiers who came to get their shots, and were medically cleared to get their shots, were vaccinated.
"The throughput is going well and the Soldiers are going to be protected, so it is going to be great," the colonel said.
Marrast Host said she is very happy with the Janssen vaccine.
"It is a one-dose vaccine," she said. "This makes things a lot easier-- and logistically--to move around theater, and it does not need to be frozen."
The colonel said that other vaccines had to travel frozen, while the Janssen vaccine could move in a refrigerated state at 2 degrees to 8 degrees Celsius, which is roughly, 36 degrees to 46 degrees Fahrenheit.
Army Reserve Master Sgt. Jessica Perez-Dixon, 228th CSH, was the noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the vaccination event that began at 8 a.m. and ran into the early afternoon first, for senior leaders, and then for Soldiers from different units during their unit’s assigned time slot.
"The goal for this operation was to get everybody vaccinated and to make sure everybody, who wanted to get the vaccine had the opportunity to get the vaccine and get it done," the San Antonio, Texas, native said.
"I do believe we will accomplish this mission," she said. "We had to make sure all Soldiers and civilians have the opportunity to get vaccinated, so they can get it done now as opposed to having it done when they get home."
The master sergeant said her 228th CSH Soldiers were highly motivated to vaccinate the Soldiers. "When a task comes down to the 228th, we are always eager to fulfill it."
Army Reserve Sgt. Richard Liggans, 228th CSH, was the Soldier who administered the vaccination for Swanson and Maj. Gen. Patrick Hamilton, the commanding general of Texas National Guard's 36th Infantry Division, as well as Task Force Spartan.
Liggans said he and the other 228th CSH Soldiers were excited to be a part of the COVID-19 vaccination. "We are enjoying the experience on this mobilization."
The Buffalo, New York, native said everyone he encountered in the vaccination station was upbeat. "They have all been motivated and come to me with a smile on their face."
Personnel observed after they are vaccinated
Marrast Host said after the Soldiers receive the vaccine, they move to the observation area, where they wait for 15-to-30 minutes. "Once they felt better, they were able to go back to work."
Navy Lt. Hazel Anderson, the deputy chief of the Joint Intelligence Support Element, said she was grateful for the opportunity to receive the vaccine.
"It was like a flu shot. Obviously, when it was administered it stuck a little bit, but now it is good," she said.
"I was a little sad," she said. "I thought I wasn't going to make it, because I am redeploying tonight, so I just made it. I got my vaccine just before I am leaving."
"I was very excited to get the vaccine," the Virginia Beach, Virginia resident said. "When I found out that they were asking for volunteers, I volunteered right away."
Army Reserve Brig. Gen. Tina B. Boyd, the commanding general of the 335th Signal Command (Theater) (Provisional) immediately after she received the vaccine said: "I feel awesome. I feel wonderful. Let's do the other arm."
Boyd said Operation Med Spear is about protecting the force.
"It's about getting us out and doing our work and carrying on with our business," she said. "It's safe and there's no doubt it's effective, and I think we should all be involved in this because it will absolutely help with our readiness."
British Air Force Squadron Leader Chris Childs, assigned to the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance division at Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve here, said it was an honor to receive the vaccine.
"I feel privileged," he said. "It's a new vaccine and it was nice to be offered it along with my U.S. colleagues."
Childs, whose rank is the equivalent to a major, said the American medical Soldiers at the vaccination stations were professional and motivated. "It was fairly quick. Straight in, straight out. A really good experience."
Gwin said he felt fine after his vaccination.
"I think it is important that we get the vaccines--I did my homework and I realized the vaccine is safe, effective and thoroughly tested," the command sergeant major said.
"Soldiers really need to get onboard to take the vaccine, so we can get back to more normalcy," he said.
"I have been telling Soldiers: 'Make an informed decision. Make sure that if you have any questions or concerns or doubts that you raise them to your chain of command, to the medical community and make sure you are going to the CDC website and reading the material, so you can make an informed decision.'" CDC is shorthand for the federal government's Center for Disease Control, and the website is: www.cdc.gov.