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Submarine base commander embraces vaccine in battle against COVID-19

By JULIA BERGMAN | The Day | Published: January 28, 2021

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NEW LONDON, Conn. (Tribune News Service) — As commanding officer of the Naval Submarine Base, Capt. Todd Moore's job is to prepare sailors and submarines to go to sea.

But a new duty has emerged for him in the fight against COVID-19: Persuading sailors to get vaccinated.

To do that, Moore has set out to answer questions and dispel misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccines in virtual town halls he's hosted in recent weeks with Navy doctors or sometimes solo.

"This is our way to beat the virus. This is our way to defeat COVID-19," Moore said Tuesday night, appearing before a computer screen in a nondescript room on base.

The Pentagon has its own vaccine supply and distribution plan separate from the general public, and at this point hundreds of sub base personnel, including Moore, submarine crews, medical staff and emergency responders, have gotten their first doses.

Moore's town halls, which have been attended by about 500 people — a combination of sailors, their families and civilians who work on base — cover a wide swath of information from data on the number of cases in New London County to the findings from the vaccine trials and how the vaccine works. He jokes that he's become an expert on the vaccine at this point.

But his presentations also have underscored the pandemic's deadly toll.

The U.S. has racked up more than 425,000 coronavirus deaths, nearly equivalent to the number of combat casualties in World War II, he said.

Displaying a graph showing the number of coronavirus-related deaths in New London County, Moore said, "these are our family members. These are people we know. These are our co-workers. So yes, the pandemic is serious."

Many of the questions he's received at the town halls have been about when a certain population will be eligible to get the vaccine and where to sign up. Some have asked what Navy policy changes are likely to follow or when restrictions might be loosened.

At Tuesday's town hall, someone questioned why, if sailors can't be forced to get the vaccine nor be punished for not getting vaccinated, there's talk of granting more privileges to those who do choose to get vaccinated.

Getting the vaccine is voluntary at this point for service members, given the U.S. Food & Drug Administration has only authorized it for emergency use. Though military officials expect it eventually will be mandatory like other vaccines.

Moore said there is discussion about granting submarine crews with higher vaccination rates more liberty when deployed to foreign ports. Currently, they are limited in where they can go to spend free time.

"That makes sense," Moore said of the proposal. "They're vaccinated and therefore they're safer from COVID-19 and we can afford to take a little bit more risk with that bubble of people."

But above all, Moore's pitch to get the vaccine, which other military leaders are also using, boils down to a patriotic message, which he made in closing Tuesday's town hall.

"This is America and I don't want to wait for someone else to do this. I want to be the one to help defend our country. I want to be the one to defeat COVID-19 and therefore, I want to roll up my sleeve and get this vaccine," he said.

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