First responders and select medical personnel received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine Jan. 4 at Ramstein’s Southside Fitness Center Annex. After a long and daunting year, the initial shipment of COVID-19 vaccines mark what infectious disease experts predict will be a turning point in the pandemic.
Medical logistics Airmen worked late into the evening Dec. 30 transporting vaccines to a cold-storage facility. Initial quantities are limited and will be distributed on a rolling delivery basis as more vaccines become available.
In accordance with Department of Defense guidelines, Ramstein’s vaccine distribution is following a phased approach, with initial doses offered to Airmen operating on the frontlines of the pandemic. Although the vaccine is currently not mandatory, it is an important part of the way forward.
“The health of our community remains our top priority,” said Brig. Gen. Josh Olson, 86th Airlift Wing commander. “This vaccine is a critical addition to current public health measures. It’s a critical step on the path to end the pandemic. We encourage all eligible personnel to receive the vaccine, when it is offered. This will both protect the community and preserve our ability to accomplish the mission.”
Air Force Col. (Dr.) Ryan Mihata, 86th Medical Group commander and guiding force during the pandemic, eagerly rolled up his sleeve for his initial dose. “I’m not getting vaccinated only for my own benefit,” said Mihata. “This is a way to help protect my daughter, my wife, my wingmen, and most importantly, our patients in high-risk categories.”
Ramstein’s Medical Clinic is one of 28 military treatment facilities in Europe that will receive initial shipments of the vaccine.
As the gateway to the world, Ramstein has a critical aeromedical evacuation mission. The base is home to the 86th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron and the 10th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Flight. Both AE units triage, treat and transport wounded or ill service members to medical treatment centers. This team has transported hundreds of COVID patients since the beginning of the pandemic. Ramstein is also home to one of the largest groups of first responders in the Air Force.
Administering the vaccines to Ramstein’s huge population will be a monumental task for the 86th MDG over the next several months, requiring extensive manpower to administer the doses and annotate each member’s records. The vaccine requires two doses per person, separated by about four weeks between doses. The Medical Clinic will need to redirect manpower from other sections within the clinic, which may result in a reduction in availability for routine medical care, Mihata said.
When the time comes for the larger distribution of the vaccine to the healthy population, all eligible personnel are encouraged to take the vaccine to contribute to lowering the public health risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I highly recommend that anyone eligible for the vaccine go ahead and get it,” urges Mihata. “Physical distancing and face coverings will still be required, but this extra layer of protection is one of the most advanced tools we have to help us navigate our way back to normal.” For more information about the vaccine, visit https://www.ramstein.af.mil/COVID-19-Vaccine-Information/.