Teachers, deploying service members line up for COVID-19 vaccine at Ramstein
By JENNIFER H. SVAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 15, 2021
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RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — Alongside a sign that said “COVID VACCINE,” a line of about 50 people waited outside the Southside Fitness Center Annex early Friday in freezing temperatures before the doors opened at 9.
Air Force medical officials said they expected to vaccinate several hundred people during the three-hour shot clinic, which was open on a walk-in basis to select personnel.
Many in line were teachers at Department of Defense Education Activity schools in Kaiserslautern, both eager and anxious to get the Moderna vaccine, a step they hoped would help in getting kids back in school. DODEA schools in Germany are closed and students are taking classes remotely.
“I make the jokes, ‘If I come out with three heads,’” Sierra Eberhardt, 38, a kindergarten teacher at Vogelweh Elementary School, said with a laugh. “There are worries … but if we need to do it, we need to do it.”
Diana Taboada, 41, who also teaches at Vogelweh, said she was getting vaccinated to support the community. “We work so closely with children and other teachers,” she said.
Ramstein began the initial pilot phase of administering the Moderna vaccine on Jan. 4. During the first week, the vaccine primarily went to essential medical workers and emergency responders.
This week, the base opened vaccine eligibility to DODEA teachers, child care employees and food service workers, as well as military personnel likely to deploy and others in critical career fields.
A few service members were in line Friday, including Airman 1st Class Redento Johnson, 24, a firefighter with the 86th Civil Engineer Squadron.
“I want to protect myself along with everybody else,” Johnson said. He said having proof of being vaccinated may be important later on, if the vaccine is required for traveling on military orders or for leisure.
The vaccine is currently voluntary, one of two approved last month by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency use.
Most airmen in his unit are getting it, he said, though a few have declined. “They just don’t want to get it,” he said.
William Conley, 50, the JROTC instructor at Kaiserslautern High School, was first in line Friday morning along with his wife, Genevieve Macalag, 53, a substitute teacher at the school.
He said interest among his colleagues in the vaccine is very high. Of among approximately 65 to 70 employees at the high school, “I think just about everybody signed up to participate,” Conley said.
“If it’s a step to return to some sense of normalcy … then I’m all for it,” he said.
Col. Ryan Mihata, an emergency and critical care doctor who leads the 86th Medical Group at Ramstein, expects the base will use up its initial supply of the vaccine next week.
So far “we have had zero vaccine-related reactions,” he said.
Mihata said he felt confident the next shipment will arrive in time for everyone who received the vaccine to get it again within the desired target of four weeks.
The next group in line for the vaccine includes those over age 65 and anyone with certain underlying health conditions such as heart disease, cancer or obesity.
It remains unclear when the vaccine might be available to the base population at large. Stateside bases were about three to four weeks ahead in the vaccination rollout compared to Ramstein.
Base officials are considering when they might be able to offer the vaccine to local nationals that work on base, Mihata said.