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JBLM healthcare workers, soldiers among first in US military to get COVID-19 vaccine

Joint Base Lewis-McChord was one of the first US military bases to receive the vaccine.

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash — Joint Base Lewis McChord starting issuing the coronavirus vaccine to soldiers and military health care workers Wednesday, after being chosen as one of the first US military bases to get the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

About 20 military bases — from Okinawa to Indiana — were chosen to get the military's first batch of COVID-19 vaccines.

Frontline health care workers weren't the only ones at the front of the line today. The military also distributed some of its 44,000 doses to enlisted women and men who are about to deploy.

"Part of it is protecting soldiers who, because of the nature of their mission, may be at risk," said Dr. Luke Mease, JBLM's Chief of Preventitive Medicine. "They may not be able to socially distance from each other, for example."

Mease compared the coordination between the state and county health departments with the military during the pandemic to his own deployment to Afghanistan.

"It was a multinational cooperation, and in some ways we've definitely seen that here."

The Defense Department is one of five federal agencies that is getting its own supply of the vaccines. The other agencies include the Department of Corrections.

 About 100 people got their first dose today at JBLM, including LaRae Munns, a civilian ER nurse on the base.

"I volunteered, and I was anxious to come up today," she told reporters.

"We need to be able to take care of our patients, and I also have loved ones at home I don't want to get sick. So I think anything we can do to prevent the spread is something we all should be doing."

Madigan Army Medical Center serves the general public in emergencies like the 2017 train derailment.

During the pandemic, it's been a daily mission, with a different type of stress — that the vaccine rollout will help alleviate.

"When you're taking care of very sick patients on a day to day basis," Munns said. "It can get to you a little bit emotionally. But you just have to be resilient and keep plugging along."

Mease agreed.

"It's kind of a grind, day to day get up every morning and deal with the situation, but you have awesome milestone days like we have today."

According to the Department of Defense, JBLM was selected to be one of the first for the following reasons: 

  • Anticipated supply chain requirements for initially approved vaccines like ultra-cold, bulk storage facility.
  • Local population of at least 1,000 priority personnel across the military services to facilitate rapid vaccine administration.
  • Sufficent and necessary medical personnel to administer vaccines and actively monitor vaccine recipients after initial and second-dose administration.

The DOD plans to administer its initial allocation of 43,875 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to all the bases. Distribution will be conducted in phases.

You can see the DOD's vaccine distribution plan here.

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