First round of coronavirus vaccinations for US Forces Korea to start within days

U.S. Army Gen. Robert B. Abrams, U.S. Forces Korea commander, shown here in November 2018, on Dec. 23, 2020, said he expected the Moderna vaccine for COVID-19 to arrive at USFK within days.


By JOSEPH DITZLER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 23, 2020

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U.S. Forces Korea will start administering the Moderna vaccine against the coronavirus to frontline health care workers and first responders “over the next few days,” the USFK commander, Gen. Robert Abrams, announced Tuesday.

In a message on the USFK website, Abrams said the command would receive "additional shipments of the vaccine to inoculate all USFK-affiliated community members as production and distribution increases.”

He did not specify a timeline for wider distribution of the vaccine. “I ask that our community remains patient and flexible as the additional shipments arrive,” Abrams wrote.

The Moderna vaccine, approved Friday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency use, must be taken voluntarily.

“I plan to take it when given the opportunity,” Abrams said. “I ask our USFK community to strongly consider taking it as well. I want you to make an informed decision for you and your family regarding the vaccine and ask that you consult your primary care manager to learn more about the benefits of receiving the vaccine.”

Like the first vaccine approved by the FDA, one created by Pfizer-BioNTech, it requires two shots given one month apart.

The jab may induce some side effects, according to a USFK vaccine fact sheet, including muscle aches, pain and swelling around the injection site, fatigue, headache and fever.

“This is normal and indicates your body is creating antibodies to protect you from COVID-19,” the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, according to USFK.

Even with the vaccine available soon, USFK reminded service members, civilian employees and family members to abide by coronavirus restrictions, even after being inoculated.

Health protection measures, USFK directives and South Korean national and local measures still apply, according to USFK.

“History has proven that vaccines are a proven measure to better protect you and others from viruses,” Abrams wrote. “This is another tool to protect the force, community and strengthen our ‘Fight Tonight’ readiness posture.”

In Japan, the same vaccine is expected to arrive, destined for six U.S. bases with medical treatment facilities, “within the next 24-48 hours,” Chief Master Sgt. Rick Winegardner Jr., senior enlisted leader of U.S. Forces Japan, said on American Forces Network Radio on Wednesday.

“We’ve got about 7,000, 8,000 doses that are coming over and they’re all going to be focused on our tier one kind-of folks, i.e., all the folks that we have that support us, working at our hospitals and our medical clinics,” Winegardner said.

He said the vaccine should be widely available by the middle of next year or sooner.

“In the meantime,” he said, “wear your mask, wash your hands, watch your distance.”

Twitter: @JosephDitzler