JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. – In these times where the terms millions and billions are tossed around on a daily basis, it may be easy to forget just how big a number 100,000 really is. Madigan Army Medical Center and its partners with I Corps and the 62nd Airlift Wing have been looking forward to that number for a while now. They administered the 100,000 dose of COVID-19 vaccine at the Lewis Main Exchange vaccination site right around 2 p.m. on Friday, July 9.
The Soldiers staffing the vaccine site were getting more and more excited for the impending shot to be given. As the number of people needed to get a shot to get to that magic number ticked down, SFC Brian Baker, the noncommissioned officer-in-charge of vaccine operations who is assigned to the 56th Multifunctional Medical Battalion, went to the screening table to meet the lucky person and make sure she was alright with the fanfare.
“I really did it because I have three kids and I just want to keep them safe. And I'm also going on a trip, so I wanted to be vaccinated for it,” said Tatjana Merritt, the 100,000th shot recipient.
Merritt, whose spouse is a staff sergeant on the base, was taken aback by the fuss when she had only expected to get a simple shot both for the everyday protection it offers as well as the comfort she expects it to offer as she joins other already vaccinated friends from high school on a girls’ trip to New Orleans in the near future. She was game for the attention.
Since COVID began in early 2020, the installation has been engaged in a battle to beat back COVID and reclaim a sense of normal life. Dec. 16, 2020, marked day one of the vaccination efforts on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., that have given the community the greatest hope in achieving that goal.
“The COVID-19 vaccine remains the safest and most effective method of protecting yourself from severe COVID-19 illness and we urge you to consider the benefits of vaccination,” said Col. (Dr.) Paul Faestel, Acting Director, JBLM Department of Public Health at Madigan. “We celebrate this milestone but our work is not done, and we will continue to vaccinate all who want it,” Faestel added.
Looking back shows a great deal of planning, coordination and dedication have gone into this effort.
“It’s truly a testament to the work that’s been put in by both Madigan, the 62nd (Medical Brigade) and all the other medical professionals on this post,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Albert Harris, Madigan’s senior enlisted advisor. “Every medical asset on this installation has somehow been involved with doing this vaccine. That's been the success story building those relationships while delivering on this really important mission,” added Madigan Acting Commander Col. Scott Roofe.
So many people have been involved in the months of administering injections. Nurses, medics and plenty of logistical personnel have made the effort successful day in and day out.
At the Exchange site working the screening table to ensure those who are interested have all their vaccine questions answered were Cathy Bradley, a registered nurse, and 2nd Lt. Pema Kunsang, also a nurse.
“It's really been a great experience, and just to know that the COVID cases are going down so much more because we were vaccinating them. It's so much happier now, I think, in the environment because of that. And it is true that everything's getting better, slowly, but they are. So, we're all happy about that,” said Bradley.
Kunsang has worked many of the different sites offered to accommodate the large numbers of people who have been interested in vaccination.
“I've been over at American Lake [VA Medical Center] since I think February, and then over at the drive-thru, and since the drive-thru is closed, I've been here,” she said.
Baker, who is the NCOIC for the taskforce that has managed vaccine efforts, especially the coordination piece, base-wide, has been in the thick of it from early on as well.
He ran the testing tent at the hospital before the vaccine was available, then started working vaccine operations when the original NCOIC moved to a new duty station. He also described his involvement as a great experience, noting that there have been no real problems.
“The overall thing has been just making sure we have the right amount of personnel in the right locations. And that way we can handle the throughput,” he said.
At the drive-thru site on McChord that operated for the spring, the numbers were in the thousands of doses given. Now, the demand has certainly tapered off with roughly 200 a day being the standard, according to Baker who figures that if the vaccine becomes mandatory for active duty, the demand will surge again.
Currently, clinics within units and serving Soldiers and Airmen are administering the shots as well as the Exchange site. If the demand returns to higher levels, Baker said the drive-thru is ready to stand back up and take some of the pressure off the clinics.
As significant as that 100,000 milestone may be to everyone involved, it is merely a marker. And nothing about the vaccination effort stops.
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