Air Force C-17 aircraft delivers COVID-19 vaccinations to Hawaii National Guard neighbor island troops

Sgt. First Class Denise Chincio assigned to the Medical Detachment, Hawaii National Guard (HING), draws a COVID-19 vaccine on a C-17 aircraft during a single-day operation to inoculate the front line HING members across all counties, January 5, 2021, Kahului, Hawaii. The Hawaii Air National Guard provided a C-17 aircraft to travel within the counties over a single day.


By WILLIAM COLE | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Published: January 6, 2021

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HONOLULU (Tribune News Service) — Hundreds of activated Hawaii National Guard personnel with the joint task force responding to COVID-19 are getting vaccinated, with some on neighbor islands receiving the Pfizer vaccine today from the back of a C-17 cargo aircraft making a brief stop.

"These are all people who were activated to support the state " coronavirus effort, said Hawaii Guard spokesman Jeff Hickman.

The C-17 out of Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam — also crewed by Hawaii Guard members — stopped on Hawaii island, Kauai and Maui with medical teams onboard to vaccinate those among the 150 to 200 joint task force members on the neighbor islands.

"They stop the plane. They don't even turn off the engines and then they crank out the 150 to 200 (vaccinations ) per island, " Hickman said. "They come on, get their vaccination and they do their waiting period back in one of the buildings at the airfield. And then the plane closes back up and goes to the next location."

Approximately 800 Hawaii Guard members remain on active duty to help the state with COVID-19 efforts. Among those flying aboard the C-17 are Hawaii Army and Air National Guard medics.

"They are only giving the vaccinations to Guardsmen, but I guess there are plans in the future for them to assist the (Hawaii) Department of Health with vaccinating civilians, " Hickam said. "So this is not really a practice run, but I guess this is the first chance they get giving the vaccine before they help civilians."

Hickman said there's "no word yet " on when that will happen. "Right now things are still being planned."

The majority of the joint task force citizen soldiers — about 350 — are on Oahu. Some have received the vaccine with more inoculations scheduled for Wednesday, Hickman said.

Hawaii National Guard leadership also will be getting the vaccine.

Tripler Army Medical Center, the military distribution point for the Pfizer vaccine in Hawaii, received an initial small quantity of the vaccine on Dec. 15.

The medical center has since received additional shipments, said spokeswoman Mackenzie Walsh. This week Tripler is starting to administer second doses of the Pfizer vaccine to front-line health care providers.

"There has been no shortage of volunteers to receive the vaccine as (it is ) being distributed and administered across several branches to include the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard and Hawaii National Guard, " Walsh said.

Allocation decisions are made by accounting for unique supply chain considerations, including the need for ultra-cold bulk storage capabilities for the Pfizer vaccine.

Tripler posted an Instagram video showing Hawaii National Guard members picking up the vaccine today from Tripler for transport on the C-17, as well as Guard troops on the Big Island walking up the back ramp of the cargo jet to get their vaccination.

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Hawaii National Guard members assigned to the Medical Detachment prepare to give COVID-19 vaccine on a C-17 aircraft in Hilo on Jan. 5, 2021. The operation was designed to provide vaccinations in a single day to National Guard members on active duty assisting the state with the coronavirus in each county.