KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany - A diverse team of Army medical professionals vaccinated nearly 5,500 Afghan evacuees in less than 72 hours at Rhine Ordnance Barracks, Germany, Sept. 17-19.
Led by the 30th Medical Brigade, and with assistance from Regional Health Command Europe and operational units around Europe, the team administered measles, mumps and rubella, or MMR, and chickenpox vaccines to provide protection for Afghan evacuees.
Vaccinations were administered at the request of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention due to a small number of measles cases in the United States among newly arrived evacuees from Afghanistan. According to Army medical officials, vaccinating the evacuees also helps ensure the health and well-being of the military and local communities.
“Our Army Medicine team here in Europe unified efforts to ensure the safe passage of our Afghan evacuee population,” said Col. Dennis Sarmiento, U.S. Army Europe and Africa deputy command surgeon. “Our team of teams balanced provision of primary care on-site while demonstrating resolute commitment, culturally-sensitive medical expertise, and tireless professionalism in caring for young and old, executing mass vaccination campaigns, and supporting requirements for timely onward movement.
“Relaying the sentiments from our most senior military leaders in theater and in the Department, our medical teams have more than answered the call at a time of significant operational transition while ensuring the readiness of our formations and families during a pandemic.”
Lt. Col. Julie Hundertmark, the 512th Field Hospital commander, was responsible for setting up many of the vaccination sites and manning them with the appropriate mix of specialties.
“One of our primary goals was to make the vaccination process as easy on our Afghan travelers as possible,” Hundertmark said. “That meant deploying vaccination teams at five different LSAs (Life Support Areas), which was a bit of a logistical challenge for us, but our teams performed heroically!”
Under the direction of the 519th Hospital Center, the vaccination teams began administering their first shots to Afghan evacuees at 10 a.m. on Friday, and by 4 p.m. Sunday, they had administered MMR and chickenpox vaccines to nearly 5,500 people.
“We originally estimated that it would take a week to vaccinate that many people, but set a goal to get everyone vaccinated in five days,” Hundertmark said. “I never dreamed we could finish in less than three days, but our diverse team of medical professionals came together quickly and functioned like a single medical element. This is a testament to how the Army Medicine team does such a great job of coming together to meet our patient care needs when called upon. I couldn’t be more proud of this team and I’m so glad I got to play a role and watch them make history!”
Hundertmark says that despite how busy the entire medical team has been supporting this effort over the last several weeks, the Soldiers were excited to be a part of the mission.
“It meant a lot to be part of this mission and to work with my battle buddies to help the Afghan evacuees,” said Pvt. David David, an Army medic assigned to the 512th FH. “It felt good to see a smile on their faces after treating them and knowing that I’m doing my part to help them. I was surprised at how flexibly and efficiently my unit and others worked together when called to action.”
Along with medical personnel from Landstuhl Regional Medical Center and Medical Department Activity Bavaria and operational units across Europe, there were also Army medical teammates from the United States augmenting the team.
Sgt. Daniel Rodas, an Army medic assigned to Madigan Army Medical Center, Wash., says he was proud to be a part of the mission.
“The way the Army Medicine in Europe team and everyone involved in the mission came together to help make the travelers comfortable while they stayed here really impressed me,” Rodas, said. “I was surprised by how appreciative the travelers were. Even after I poked them with a needle to give them their vaccines, most of them thanked me!”