Madigan works to make COVID history, a vaccine compendium

By Kirstin Grace-SimonsJuly 12, 2021

Madigan and JBLM cross the 100k vaccine dose given mark

100k shot
Tatjana Merritt accepts the 100,000 dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine given on Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Tacoma, Wash., on July 9. Spc. Colten Fowler, a medic with the 62nd Medical Brigade, puts her first dose in her arm so she can protect her young children and be ready to enjoy a trip with old friends later this summer. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Kirstin Grace-Simons) VIEW ORIGINAL

Editor's Note: This story can be found separately at:

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 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 unit 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.


Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow, a Madigan COVID-19 vaccine timeline

Editor's Note: This story can be found separately at:

Dec. 15, 2020

Ending months of preparation and moving into active vaccination, the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine arrives at Madigan. Madigan has planned for this moment for some time, establishing solid protocols for handling this unique vaccine that requires cold storage. The warehouse, Facilities, Logistics, Nursing, Medicine, and other services and clinics have collaborated to ensure that the receipt, storage and administration of the vaccine goes smoothly, which it does.

COVAX arrives
Mark Robinson, Pfc. Saurav Shrestha, Paul Russell and Perry Porter accept, inspect and store the first shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine into the warehouse at Madigan Army Medical Center on Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Tacoma, Wash., Dec. 15, 2020. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photos by John Wayne Liston) VIEW ORIGINAL

Dec. 16, 2020

Dec. 16 found needles going into the arms of first responders on JBLM as emergency room staff, law enforcement officers, firefighters and deploying Soldiers visited the 8th floor of the hospital tower at Madigan to get the first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. Local television news crews captured the well-organized scene.

1st shot
Jose Picart, LPN, delivers the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to Staff Sgt. Travis Synder Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020, at Madigan Army Medical Center on Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Tacoma, Wash. (Photo Credit: John Wayne Liston) VIEW ORIGINAL

To see a local news station capture the first doses at Madigan, visit:

Mid-December through mid-January

Maj. Steven Mock, a physician assistant assigned to the 5th Security Force Assistance Brigade, was interviewed by the local news station when they captured vaccinations being administered to first responders at Madigan on Dec. 16, 2020. He spoke enthusiastically about the opportunity to get the vaccine and curb the spread of COVID-19. He sat in front of the camera twice more to speak directly to Madigan staff with his thoughts on getting the inoculation.

Two of Madigan’s ER doctors provided staff with inside views of the vaccination process and outcome. Dr. Diane DeVita, the chief of emergency room operations, took her camera with her to get her first shot. Lt. Col. Karen McGrane, an emergency medicine physician, gave thorough explanations of how she felt a few days out from each.

Vaccine Vloggers
Dr. Diane DeVita, Madigan’s chief of emergency room operations (top left), Lt. Col. (Dr.) Karen McGrane, an emergency room physician (bottom left), and Maj. Steven Mock, a physician assistant, make selfie videos to give their colleagues at Madigan a first person view of getting the vaccine and weathering whatever side effects it may produce. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photos) VIEW ORIGINAL


From the moment the vaccine was available, Madigan’s medical experts were on the information front line to get all the facts about the vaccine to their patients. Being a pathologist by trade, Madigan’s chief medical officer at the time the vaccine arrived, Col. George Leonard, who has moved to a new duty station since that time, was fascinated by the virus. Studying emerging pathogens was right up his alley; he proved an excellent resource for sharing this information. To read their advice, visit:


By the middle of January, COVID vaccine efforts were everywhere at Madigan, and beyond. Madigan was at the forefront of vaccine deployment with its development of a scheduling app and a hotline dedicated to vaccine information.

Read about the scheduling app here:

Madigan took its vaccination show on the road in order to ensure that those on the front line of the pandemic got the vaccine as soon as possible. Preventive Medicine staff headed east in a number of shot exercises, often shortened to SHOTEX, to the Yakima Training Center in central Washington state. There they inoculated first responders and essential workers to include law enforcement, firefighters, security guards and medical personnel. With the first SHOTEX taking place on Jan. 12 with a return for the second dose, by early February, the team had given 228 doses of the Pfizer vaccine with efforts continuing beyond these first exercises.

Yakima Training Center first responders and other essential workers received their COVID-19 vaccinations. Center, Lt. Col. Luke Wittmer, garrison commander, receives his shot from SSG Jeremy Godles, a critical care flight paramedic with the Army Air Ambulance Detachment; 1st Lt. Michael Paulter, a 66H (medical/surgical nurse) with Madigan, inoculates security guard Gage Sullivan (left) and Fire Chief Kevin Sullivan (right). (Photo Credit: (U.S. Army photos)) VIEW ORIGINAL

Jan. 23, 2021

Madigan staff opened vaccination appointments for patients 75 years of age or older at the American Lake Conference Center on Lewis North in late January. Madigan Informatics staff, headed by Rick Barnhill, developed an app that allowed for easy scheduling of appointments. With a high rate of vaccination, retirees have taken good advantage of the vaccine’s availability on JBLM.

Madigan patient, Fred Hoskins, received his COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 28, 2021, at the American Lake Conference Center on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. Mr. Hoskins was originally slated to receive the vaccine at the VA, but was able to get his shot early, thanks to vaccine availability at Madigan. (Photo Credit: Ryan Graham) VIEW ORIGINAL

Mid-February into mid-April

Continuing to follow the DoD’s vaccine eligibility schema, Madigan made the vaccine available to younger and younger age groups over the winter and early spring, culminating in eligibility being open to everyone 12 years of age and older by mid-April.

Following successful trials in youth, the Federal Drug Administration authorized emergency use for the Pfizer vaccine in children as young as 12 years old. With that development, the Pediatrics Clinic started offering the shot in regular clinic visits. Not only did kids start getting their shots, but their parents were lucky enough to be inoculated at these appointments as well, making it a family affair.

(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

Mid-April to mid-May

On April 12, Madigan moved into Phase 2 in the Department of Defense’s vaccine availability schema where all eligible TRICARE beneficiaries 16 years of age or older can receive the vaccine. With that, Madigan opened its drive-thru vaccination site on McChord, a collaboration with the garrison to replicate the ease of last fall’s flu drive.

Using the Arrival/Departure Airfield Control Group’s facilities on the McChord section of JBLM, lanes were established and staffed by personnel from across the base. They created stations for screening to ensure people were eligible and able to get the vaccine, as well as spots to complete paperwork, get the shot and park for a 15-minute waiting period to allow for any potential reactions to present themselves and be dealt with by medical staff before the patients leave the area.

Retired SSG Aponte
1 / 4 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Retired Staff Sgt. Dominick Aponte, gets his COVID-19 vaccine at the drive-thru site on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., on April 15. “I decided to get it because it’s gonna help with immunity from the disease. I’m grateful that I was able to come here to the base and get it. I called up TRICARE and made the appointment, and they actually make you two appointments for the first shot and the second shot, so, I’ve got a date for that,” said Aponte. “Everything went pretty smooth. The Soldiers were very professional through the whole process. The shot- I didn’t feel much pain or anything like that.” (Photo Credit: Ryan GRAHAM) VIEW ORIGINAL
Spc. Kimbrough
2 / 4 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Spc. Kylie Kimbrough, a medic at Madigan’s Winder Family Medical Clinic, talks with a patient she is vaccinating at the COVID-19 drive-thru vaccination site on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, on April 15. “They really got a good process down with getting everyone in and keeping it all organized. So it's been great. It's a lot more convenient for people to just drive through instead of having to park, go in, wait inside, they can just drive through and then go on about their day,” said Kimbrough of the drive-thru operation. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Ryan Graham) VIEW ORIGINAL
COL Leto
3 / 4 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Retired Col. Vincent Leto gives Spc. Kylie Kimbrough, a medic at Madigan Army Medical Center’s Winder Family Medical Clinic, his consent form in preparation for his COVID-19 vaccine shot. “It’s easy to make both appointments at the same time. The process is quick, easy and efficient. The toughest part is coming through the gate. I just wish we could have gotten it earlier,” said Leto of getting his shot on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., on April 15. (Photo Credit: Ryan GRAHAM) VIEW ORIGINAL
Maggie Woods
4 / 4 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Spc. Kylie Kimbrough, a medic at Madigan Army Medical Center’s Winder Family Medical Clinic, administers a COVID-19 mRNA Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to Maggie Woods who came through the drive-thru with her husband, Spc. Tyler Woods, also a medic who got his inoculation while working at Madigan in December 2020. Mrs. Woods views the shot as enabling her to see family again. She also says, “I'd like to make sure that I'm doing what I can to protect the people around me.” (Photo Credit: Ryan GRAHAM) VIEW ORIGINAL


Gratitude and grief, one COVID survivor’s story

Editor's Note: This story can be found separately at:

Dena Curtis
Dena Curtis gets her long-awaited shot from Spc. Kylie Kimbrough, a medic at Madigan’s Winder Family Medical Clinic, at the COVID-19 drive-thru vaccination site on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, on April 15. (Photo Credit: Ryan GRAHAM) VIEW ORIGINAL

When Dena Curtis worked her way through the stations of the drive-thru COVID-19 vaccination site on a gloriously warm and sunny early spring day in the Pacific Northwest, a mix of emotions was her noticeable passenger.

“My husband and I, we talked about the vaccine, about getting it as soon as they finally came out with them and we were eligible for them. We were planning on getting them right away. I got an infusion and I believe that’s what helped me recover as quick as I did. Everett, unfortunately, because of his lungs, they were so badly damaged, it just took him.”

Everett is an understandably palpable presence in a conversation with Curtis.

When Curtis got COVID in January, it sapped her energy and robbed her of her sense of taste and smell, as it has so many of its victims.

“I have lingering effects, even though I had a mild case. COVID stole my sense of smell and my sense of taste completely, so bad that I cannot smell skunks. Nothing at all has come back. There’s one thing I can taste- it’s black licorice from Australia. It’s so strong that actually I can smell it and I can taste it. That is the only thing so far. I still have some brain fog, like it’s really hard to concentrate. One of the worst symptoms I had was absolutely extreme exhaustion. I have never been that tired in my whole life. It just seems like I haven’t been 100% since. The only time I felt really, really good was like four days after I got that infusion. It was like, ‘Wow, nothing hurts!’ They gave me steroids with it- monoclonal something.”

But, being an otherwise healthy woman in early retirement, she recovered easily enough. Everett did not.

“I got it, had a super mild case, gave it to him. He had severe emphysema, he was in end stage. He died about 15 days later.”

Curtis was married to the retired supply sergeant for decades. They traveled the world together and had a family, while working for the military.

“His last posting was here with 4th Brigade, with Headquarters Company. He was 20 years in the military; he got out in ’91. Then he worked as a military contractor for the next 20 years. And he got me into working for the military as a military contractor. He couldn’t come with me, his clearance didn’t come through and mine did, so I went to Greenland for two years.”

Originally from southern Oregon, the pair spent much of the 20-plus years Everett was on active duty here in Washington.

“He was here 20 plus years, most of his time, when he wasn’t overseas. He was very comfortable with this area,” Curtis noted.

After Curtis’ stint in Greenland, they headed to Alaska for eight years. But, when Everett’s health got bad, Curtis knew it was time for another move.

“I knew I needed to bring him down. We came from Alaska because of his health. I knew I needed to bring him down where medical care was available,” she said.

As Everett received treatment, they looked forward to getting the vaccine.

“The reason we were going to get the shots, was we felt the only way for this disease to be gone, or at least under control, is if everybody gets vaccinated as soon as they can because we can’t stop this disease if we don’t. We just felt it’s not going to go away if people don’t get vaccinated,” insisted Curtis.

Because of some of the treatment Curtis got to recover from COVID, she had to wait to get her shot.

“I was determined one way or another, as soon as I had the 90 days past the infusion, because you have to wait 90 days. So, I tried to get the closest appointment I could get to that. And they were very gentle with me. I hate needles. I mean, I’m terrified. I just looked away and she just tapped it in there and they were so gentle, it didn’t really hurt,” said Curtis.

Surviving COVID is bittersweet for Curtis. She expresses her gratitude for each passing day, but there is a sorrow in her voice that comes when someone finds themself alone after years of having someone by their side.

“I wish my husband was here right now to be able to enjoy this absolutely beautiful weather. We used to go for long drives when it was beautiful weather like this,” Curtis mused.

Since her husband’s passing, Curtis has tried to get her adult son to take a drive with her. With a sigh, she admits it’s not really his thing.

Now, as Curtis, who has never enjoyed the rain of the Northwest, prepares to move to a sunnier climate, she’ll get that drive. And, hopefully, some sunnier days ahead.


Exchange Pop-Up

On Friday, May 14, a pop-up vaccination site opens at the Lewis Main Exchange to make use of the foot traffic at the busy shopping facility in order to offer the vaccine to anyone over 12 years of age who is interested in getting the vaccine. The walk-in basis and convenient location are both highlights of this site. It continues to operate every Tuesday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.

SGT Herrera
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Sgt. Miriam Herrera, 523 CTC, 593 ESC proudly displays her CDC COVID-19 vaccination card after getting her first shot at the JBLM Lewis-Main Exchange pop-up vaccination on May 14. (Photo Credit: (U.S. Army photo)) VIEW ORIGINAL
Exchange site
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Madigan Army Medical Center operates a walk-in vaccine drive at the JBLM Lewis Main Exchange on Pendleton Ave. for all eligible TRICARE beneficiaries to get either dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. (Photo Credit: (U.S. Army photo)) VIEW ORIGINAL


Of the many initiatives undertaken by Madigan staff to inform patients on the vaccine was a special Facebook Live event with the Preventive Medicine team on April 27. Lt. Col. Luke Mease, the chief of Preventive Medicine at the time, and Maj. Leanna Gordon, the chief of epidemiology and disease control discussed a wide range of topics relating to the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. This Facebook Live event was in addition to the pandemic-long JBLM Facebook Live town halls hosted by the commanding general where Madigan’s commanders and chief medical officers have attended and answered a multitude of medical questions. These town halls have ranged from monthly to weekly, depending on changes to operations for the base. Madigan has worked to make sure patients and the community at large are as informed on the vaccine as possible. The COVID-19 vaccine hotline has been in operation and available to answer all vaccine questions since Jan. 15. Dial (253) 968-4744 to ask any vaccine-related question.

PrevMed FB Live
Lt. Col. Luke Mease, the chief of Preventive Medicine at the time, and Maj. Leanna Gordon, the chief of epidemiology and disease control discussed a wide range of topics relating to the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on a Facebook Live event on April 27, on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army screenshot) VIEW ORIGINAL

By mid-May, one in three enrolled Madigan patients had received their Pfizer shots, becoming fully vaccinated. Over 80,000 shots had been given at that point. Staff made use of multiple avenues to vaccinate and communicate to patients. In April, a campaign for Service Members to speak directly to one another through a series of testimonials where they shared why they chose to get vaccinated. Their reasons ranged from simple statements of hating masks and being tired of not being able to get together with friends and family or get out and engage in the Pacific Northwest sights and activities to wanting to do all they could to protect medically-vulnerable loved ones.

(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

There are a number of factors that individuals must consider when deciding the right time to seek vaccination for themselves, among those is pregnancy and breastfeeding. One of Madigan’s Labor and Delivery physicians took a seat in front of a camera in May in order to address this issue. Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Kaleesha Ramos, one of the Sailors stationed at Navy Medicine Readiness Training Unit Everett who recorded a video to describe why she chose to get the vaccine wrestled with this issue herself. As a breastfeeding mom, she was concerned with the possible effects of the vaccine on her body and breast milk. As a medical professional, she undertook the task of researching the issue, viewing and listening to a number of credible, medical sources. Hearing a doctor with the University of Washington speaking of being in the same situation herself on a radio program was the final piece of information Ramos needed to feel getting the vaccine sooner rather than later was the right choice for her and her family.

(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

To read Ramos’ words, visit:


In an ongoing attempt to garner the highest level of uptake by the community, Madigan and its base collaborators continued to operate vaccination sites in a multitude of arenas. Starting in June with clinics within units and Soldier-Centered Medical Homes like the Okubo clinic, the vaccine was offered in medical appointments. These, much like with the Pediatrics Clinic, will become the norm for vaccinations going forward. Though, for the time being, the site at the PX will operate as long as there is interest in the community.


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