Eglin Air Force Base gets its first shipment of COVID-19 vaccine
By JIM THOMPSON | Northwest Florida Daily News | Published: December 24, 2020
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EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — Eglin Air Force Base began vaccinating front-line health care workers against COVID-19 at the base hospital on Wednesday after the installation's first vaccine shipment arrived.
But even as the base took that next step to address the worldwide coronavirus pandemic within its own gates, Col. Matthew Hanson, commander of the 96th Medical Group, stressed that personnel still will be required to wear face coverings and observe social distancing. Both practices are public health protocols aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19.
"Our health protection measures here on this base will continue throughout the pandemic," Hanson said in a report posted Wednesday on Eglin's Facebook page. "That won't change. ... We know that the pandemic will end, but between now and then, we need to double down on health protection measures. Mask wear, hand washing, social distancing — all of that will be critical until the last day of this fight."
Still, Hanson said, the vaccination is "that ray of hope" in fighting the coronavirus.
"We know that we can beat this back," added Hanson, who noted that the availability of vaccines is a turning point in addressing COVID-19.
"Having the ability to vaccinate interested airmen that are being exposed to this virus on a regular basis means that we're going on offense," Hanson said in the Facebook post.
"We had the first reported case in our county ( Okaloosa County) 294 days ago," the commander continued, "and for the first time we're not playing containment. We're not playing defense. We're not throwing everything we have at this virus and hoping to mitigate the effects."
In its COVID-19 vaccination planning, the U.S. Department of Defense has prioritized military health care and public safety workers, beginning with those who "are exposed to the virus or have the highest risk of being exposed to the virus day to day," Hanson said.
Eventually, the DOD plans to offer the vaccine to all 11 million people who are eligible for treatment at military health care facilities.
However, Eglin is not ready to expand its vaccine distribution yet, according to Hanson.
"Right now, we just do not have the supplies, but as supplies become available we will over-communicate our readiness and (telling people) where to go to get the shot," he said.
According to data from the Florida Department of Emergency Management, Eglin has recorded 156 cases of COVID-19 since March, when the pandemic began to be felt locally.
Also according to FDEM data, of the almost 4,000 COVID-19 tests processed through Eglin labs, more than one-quarter have come back positive.
In a message to Eglin personnel in the days before the vaccine arrived, Hanson said base leadership "encourage(s) everyone to learn about the risks and benefits of vaccination. The benefits include protecting our health care and public safety professionals, as well as the health of their families. Furthermore, a successful, safe vaccination campaign will be an important step in lowering the public health risks associated with this pandemic."