Feature   Defense News

Vicenza Soldiers Prepare for COVID-19 Vaccine

Jan. 8, 2021 | BY Rick Scavetta

As coronavirus vaccine shipments head to U.S. Army Garrison Italy, U.S. Army Health Center Vicenza medical professionals are preparing to receive, store and administer the COVID-19 vaccine. 

A soldier handles a vaccine.
Vaccine Prep
Army Maj. Sean O'Brien, U.S. Army Health Center Vicenza pharmacy officer in charge, demonstrates how to prepare the COVID-19 vaccination for administration. USAHC-V is ready to receive the COVID-19 vaccine for administration to the community.
Photo By: Maria Cavins, U.S. Army Garrison Italy
VIRIN: 201231-A-UN218-023

At the end of December, news of the first U.S. military vaccinations in Europe made headlines. At USAG Italy, the vaccine should arrive in early January.

Meanwhile, USAHC-V staff trained its vaccination team to support the upcoming effort, said Army Maj. Sean O'Brien, officer in charge of the health center's pharmacy. 

"There is online training and hands-on training," O'Brien said. "It's mostly hands-on. There is a [weeklong] competency that each vaccinator has to accomplish." 

A soldier holds a temperature check device.
Temperature Checker
Army Maj. Sean O'Brien, U.S. Army Health Center Vicenza pharmacy officer in charge, holds a temperature check device that ensures the COVID-19 vaccines arrive within appropriate temperature controls in Vicenza, Italy, Dec. 31, 2020. The COVID-19 vaccine must remain at a specific temperature for effectiveness.
Photo By: Maria Cavins, U.S. Army Garrison Italy
VIRIN: 201231-A-UN218-859

The same vaccination team also administers the ongoing flu vaccine, a similar intramuscular injection, said Army Sgt. La'Terra Cook, the pharmacy's noncommissioned officer in charge.

"We have a great team," Cook said. 

When the vaccine arrives at the health center, logistics experts will quickly check its contents and turn it over to pharmacy staff, O'Brien said. From there, it's held in the pharmacy’s subzero freezer, a closely monitored device that stores the vaccine at a specific temperature. Pharmacy staff recently put in extra hours, learning as much as they could about the vaccine and refining their battle drills, to include testing if their freezer can reach them by phone.

"When we are not in [the] pharmacy there is a perpetual monitoring system. It will alert us by calling everyone in the pharmacy's phone number if the temperature is out of range," O’Brien said. "We'll know if we have to respond."

A soldier reviews medications on shelves.
Pharmacy Check
Army Sgt. La'Terra Cook, U.S. Army Health Center Vicenza pharmacy noncommissioned officer in charge, reviews stocked medications in Vicenza, Italy, Dec. 31, 2020. USAHC-V is ready to receive the COVID-19 vaccine for administration to the community.
Photo By: Maria Cavins, U.S. Army Garrison Italy
VIRIN: 201231-A-UN218-164

Respiratory care staff at the health center will be the first to receive the vaccine, offered in two doses, said Army Lt. Col. Joseph Matthews, USAHC-V commander. Once health care personnel and first responders receive vaccinations, the health center will focus on deployable forces and high-risk populations, according to Regional Health Command Europe officials. Then, the health center will offer vaccinations to healthy service members, civilians, families and retirees. 

Since the Food and Drug Administration approval of the vaccine was provided as an emergency use authorization, the COVID-19 vaccine will be offered on a voluntary basis.

Meanwhile, health officials recommend wearing masks and practicing physical distancing — plus following host nation and military guidance – until COVID-19 transmission is significantly reduced. 

(Rick Scavetta is assigned to U.S. Army Garrison Italy)