Health care providers, first responders for US Forces Korea receive coronavirus vaccine
By MATTHEW KEELER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 29, 2020
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CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea — An Army doctor was first among U.S. troops in South Korea to receive the Moderna vaccine against the coronavirus as inoculations here began Tuesday.
Army Lt. Col. Brian Cohee, a pulmonary and critical care physician, and about 20 other service members lined up for the shot at the Brian D. Allgood Army Community Hospital at Camp Humphreys.
“I consider it a huge privilege to be able to be the one to start it off here in Korea,” Cohee said. “I have taken care of a decent number of coronavirus patients and seen what it can do.”
Military health care providers and first responders at U.S. bases across the peninsula and upper-echelon leaders of U.S. Forces Korea received their shots from the shipment that arrived Friday.
The Moderna vaccine, one of two approved for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in mid-December, was also administered at Osan and Kunsan air bases in South Korea.
Humphreys, a sprawling Army base south of Seoul, is headquarters for the United Nations Command and USFK.
“This is our opportunity to show the rest of the Army and Department of Defense our ability to dispense the vaccine safely overseas,” said Col. Huy Luu, commander of the Army hospital at Humphreys.
The U.S. has about 28,500 troops in South Korea, the bulk of whom must wait several months until greater quantities of the vaccine are available.
“The key thing here is to make sure the shot is no different than any other shot we have in the military for vaccinations in order to protect our health and protect the health of our patients that we come in contact with,” Luu said.
The vaccine requires two shots administered a month apart. Those inoculated Tuesday are due back Jan. 29 for round two. Full immunity comes about two weeks after the second shot.
“To me, this is the way we move on away from COVID-19 and back to what looked more like reality as we used to know it,” Cohee said, referring to the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.
Inoculations with the Moderna vaccine began over the weekend at U.S. bases in Japan, where about 8,000 doses were delivered Saturday, Chief Master Sgt. Richard Winegardner Jr. of U.S. Forces Japan said Tuesday on American Forces Network Radio.
The vaccine arrives a year after the coronavirus appeared in China and as South Korea experiences its highest number of new cases daily since the pandemic began in March.
South Korea reported 40 deaths and 1,046 new cases across the country on Monday, just shy of the record 1,241 reached Friday.
A total 58,725 have contracted the virus and 859 have died of its complications, according to the report at midnight Monday by the country’s Central Disease Control Headquarters.
During the pandemic, USFK has reported 473 cases of the coronavirus as of Monday, of whom 369 were service members. All but 29 of those infected individuals tested positive after arriving in South Korea from the U.S.
At U.S. bases, the vaccine, because it’s approved for emergency use, is administered to volunteers only. It may cause some side effects, including pain at the injection site, tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, fever and other problems. But it is 94% effective at preventing COVID-19, according to the FDA.
The Moderna vaccine is painless compared to the lingering effects of the anthrax vaccine series he received going into Operation Desert Shield nearly two decades ago, USFK commander Gen. Robert Abrams told Stars and Stripes.
Abrams and USFK Command Sgt. Major Walter Tagalicud received their shots Tuesday, a demonstration of trust in the vaccine for the thousands of service members, Defense Department civilian employees and dependents expected to follow in the coming months.
“While we await additional shipments of the vaccine, I ask that our community remains patient and flexible,” Abrams said in a press release. “The COVID-19 vaccine is another tool that will help USFK maintain a robust combined defensive posture and our ‘Fight Tonight’ readiness approach.”