NEWS | May 13, 2021

'Desert Medics' restart COVID-19 vaccinations in CENTCOM footprint

By Staff Sgt. Neil W. McCabe 310th Expeditionary Sustainment Command

After a roughly one-month pause, the "Desert Medics" of the 3rd Medical Command (Deployment Support) relaunched the COVID-19 vaccination effort for personnel deployed across U.S. Central Command's area of responsibility.

The pause supported the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Center for Disease Control and Defense Health Agency vaccination guidance in regards to the Janssen vaccine, which resumed administration April 28.

"It is restarting all over theater, here at Arifjan, and we've sent doses to Jordan, KSA--all over--and Afghanistan, as well," said Col. Belinda J. Coakley, the chief nurse for the Forest Park, Georgia, based 3rd MCDS. KSA is the shorthand for Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Coakley and her team coordinated the distribution and administration for the COVID-19 vaccines throughout CENTCOM. The vaccine administration restarted in theater May 4. Soldiers, civilian personnel and contractors in the CENTCOM AOR have the option to elect to receive either the two-dose Moderna vaccine or the single-dose Janssen vaccine.

"Once we can get everyone vaccinated, the chance of getting COVID-19 decreases," she said. "We want to increase the health of the Soldiers and family members, as well as the Kuwaiti workers that are here and we work with on a daily basis."

Army Reserve Capt. Jennifer Morris, the officer in charge of the vaccination clinic and who is deployed here with the Fort Sam Houston, Texas, based 228th Combat Support Hospital, said the vaccinations are going well.

"We're getting a lot of people through," the Joslin, Missouri, native said. "We'd like to get more business and get more people through getting their vaccinations."

When the Soldiers and others come in, they often ask her about the difference between the two versions, she said.

"Most of the time, what they are asking is: "Which one do I prefer to take?' and I'm going over the risk factors to see which one better suits them," the operating room nurse said. "It's not what I prefer, it's what is better for their health conditions."

Spc. Devon Whitfield, a Patriot launching station operator and maintainer with the Baumholder, Germany, based 5th Battalion, 7th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, said his doctor recommended he take the Moderna vaccine.

The Huntsville, Alabama, native said his chief motivation to get the COVID-19 vaccine was safety. "With my wife having immune system problems, I was worried about getting it."

Army Reserve Lt. Col. Rosa Jimenez, who is deployed here with 3rd MCDS and serves as the CENTCOM biochemist, said she is happy with operations at the vaccination clinic and the close working relationship between 3rd MCDS and the 228th CSH.

"We have good procedures," the medical doctor said.

"Today, I am helping out with the safety brief for the vaccinations," said the native of the Dominican Republic, now a resident of Chesapeake, Virginia.

After personnel registered with administrative staff at the clinic, Jimenez went over the process for receiving the vaccinations and answered any of their questions. From the briefing, the personnel were led to the vaccination room to sign paperwork, fill out their vaccine cards and receive the shot.

After receiving the vaccine, personnel were led to an observation room, where they would sit, socially-distanced for 15 to 20 minutes, watched by military medical professionals, just in case there was an adverse reaction.

Jimenez said she was glad to see so many Soldiers and other people working here take advantage of the vaccine.

"It is an opportunity to actually fight this virus and if they become infected with the virus, the symptoms will be less severe."