U.S. Army and Italian healthcare professionals vaccinated roughly 400 Italian employees May 25 at Caserma Ederle.
Sighs of relief emerged from behind masks of Italian workers, who serve at both Caserma Ederle and Caserma Del Din, as they received their first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at the U.S. Army Healthcare Center – Vicenza.
Synchronizing efforts between the U.S. and Italian healthcare systems was no easy task, said Lt. Col. Kelley Togiola, USAHC-Vicenza’s deputy commander for nursing, who oversaw the mission.
“When we mention the Vicenza military community, we would remiss to marginalize or leave out our Italian counterparts,” Togiola said. “Many of the Italians who work on the Caserma have worked here for decades. They are a part of our community.”
Planning began in early 2021, with the arrival of the first hundred doses of vaccines for U.S. first responders and mission essential active-duty personnel, she said. Soldiers, civilians and families members received vaccinations first, following CDC and DoD guidelines.
At the same time, U.S. and Italian healthcare professionals worked to include Italian employees in the vaccinations. Behind the scenes of this complex initiative were staff of the garrison safety office, local health unit ULSS 8 Berica, Vicenza’s San Bortolo Hospital, U.S. Embassies and legal organizations. They joined forces to meet both American and Italian vaccination standards.
Coordination involved meeting various legal requirements. Vaccine lot numbers were submitted in advance to Italian healthcare officials, who prepared mobile electronic records for each Italian vaccinated within their healthcare system. An Italian physician was also present to oversee the vaccinations
USAG Italy depends on its local national workforce, so scheduling vaccines for hundreds of workers posed its challenges, said Paolo Venier, a safety and occupational health coordinator for USAG Italy.
“We had to evaluate all aspects of this day. We had to figure out how many local nationals wanted the vaccine. We then had to determine their work schedules as many are on shift-work,” Venier said. “Making an appointment for each was not feasible so we adopted the same technique as the American active-duty component at the beginning of the year.”
Two months of planning and details meant a smooth process on vaccination day. Volunteers from the American Red Cross and the Vicenza Chapter for the Order of Malta assisted medical staff. A second group of Italian employees will get the vaccine in early June.
The pandemic does not distinguish between American citizens or Italian citizens, Togiola said.
“With this collaboration, I feel that we are walking together, which is hopefully the end of the pandemic and getting our Italian employees vaccinated,” Togiola said. “They (Italians) are a part of us. It is our duty to protect them and work through the legal hoops and bureaucracy, because we are in this together.”