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Trained military personnel ready to help with COVID-19 vaccinations

Military health personnel wearing a mask giving the COVID-19 vaccine to a man who is also wearing a face mask Timothy Ames (right), superintendent of the Medical Lake School District in Washington State, gets his first COVID-19 vaccination at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, on Jan. 21. The partnership between the district and Fairchild AFB is vital to the support and education of the military children attending schools in the MLSD (Photo by: Airman Kiaundra Miller, 92nd Air Refueling Public Affairs Wing).

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The United States military stands ready to contribute its large-scale logistical and medical capabilities to support the government’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts.

The Department of Defense has a long history with its medical personnel, medics, corpsmen, and other trained technicians providing a wide array of vaccinations to service members, DOD personnel, their employees, and families. This support can be deployed across the country on shorter notice than federal agencies or the private sector.

President Joe Biden has pledged to get 100 million COVID-19 shots into the arms of adult Americans in the first 100 days of his administration. The government is purchasing an additional 200 million doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to be added to the national stockpile for availability by the end of July.

Deals also have been announced by the federal government to send doses of the COVID-19 vaccines to participating drug store and grocery chains across the country.

"It may take until June, July and August to finally get everyone vaccinated,” predicted Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health and Biden’s chief medical adviser. “When you hear about how long it's going to take to get the overwhelming proportion of the population vaccinated, I don't think anybody disagrees that that's going to be well to the end of the summer and we get into early fall."

As vaccine supplies continue to be restocked to inoculate some 300 million Americans – or virtually the entire adult population – armed services’ trained personnel are likely to be called in to assist state and local efforts.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin recently approved a Federal Emergency Management Agency request to augment and expedite COVID-19 vaccinations across the country. “The DOD must help the federal government move further and faster to eradicate the devastating effects of the coronavirus,” he said.

Austin ordered the first contingent of more than 1,000 active duty military personnel to support California state vaccination sites. Additional vaccination missions will follow.

Training for such eventualities goes on all year long. Training courses throughout the military branches have been preparing for the civilian COVID-19 immunization efforts as an added part of their curriculum in instructional and practical courses on immunizations.

Trained military personnel can provide vaccinations to civilians under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act. The PREP Act allows the Department of Health and Human Services to issue a declaration to provide legal protections to certain military personnel involved in mass vaccination efforts.

A lady in a wheel chair wearing a face mask receives the COVID-19 vaccine from military health personnel
Wilma Tucker, 99, received her COVID-19 vaccination at General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital Jan. 29. Tucker was a WWII veteran and stenographer for U.S. Forces Headquarters in Austria (Photo by: Chad Ashe, General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital Public Affairs).

At Joint Base San Antonio, Air Force Master Sgt. Evans Opoku, the enlisted consultant for allergy immunizations, said they have been informed to push out the message to train medics in the specifics of COVID-19 vaccine inoculations using the DOD guidance. The DOD guidance adheres to the guidelines created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which are being used in mass civilian vaccinations.

Only appropriately trained and qualified medical personnel, working within their scope of practice, are selected to run a COVID-19 vaccination effort either for the military or civilian community. Medics authorized to administer COVID-19 vaccines must complete prerequisite training and maintain certificates of training requirements set forth by the CDC as well as any applicable DOD training requirements.

In particular, the Air Force medical service leverages several programs to support the DOD Immunizations Program. Allergy/immunology technicians attend a 5½-week joint-service training provided at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, where a course trains immunology-allergy military technicians and civilians for the skills necessary to become certified medical care givers in administering vaccines. The students receive specialized training in, among other skills, vaccine storage and handling, and disease prevention through vaccinations for deploying personnel for peacetime and wartime missions.

At their duty station, allergy/immunization technicians manage computer-based patient information. They administer vaccines in accordance with current CDC guidelines, and provide emergency care for treatment of anaphylaxis, a serious allergic reaction. Additionally, they provide patient education regarding expected reactions and proper post-vaccination care, and train all staff members on the clinical standards for the quality delivery of immunizations.

Immunization back-up technicians are trained to administer immunizations in immunizations clinics and other outpatient clinics. Immunization augmentees are trained to assist with mass military immunizations programs administering only one vaccine at a time. They work under the supervision of an allergy/immunization tech or immunization back-up tech.

Other facilities across the military that train enlisted medical personnel to administer immunizations include the Army Combat Medic Specialist Training Program, Navy Hospital Corpsman Basic and Air Force Aerospace Medical Service Apprentice programs at the Medical Education and Training Campus located on Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston.

Military history and continuous training mean thousands of enlisted personnel will be able to help stop the spread of COVID-19 as greater vaccine supplies become available for mass distribution.

Said Defense Secretary Austin: “The military's critical role in supporting sites will help vaccinate thousands of people per day and ensure that every American who wants a vaccine will receive one.”

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