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'Adjustments' to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base COVID vaccine priority order could come next week

By THOMAS GNAU | The Dayton Daily News | Published: January 14, 2021

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DAYTON, Ohio (Tribune News Service) — The COVID-19 vaccine is not mandatory, and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base employees can volunteer to get the vaccine, but only in the "appropriate phasing," Col. Patrick, Miller, commander of the 88th Air Base Wing and Wright-Patterson installation commander, said Wednesday.

And that phasing is following a Department of Defense plan: Health care and essential first-responders are to get the vaccine first, then people necessary to accomplish certain key missions, Airmen set to deploy, then "high-risk" beneficiaries before, finally, the healthy population, Miller said.

Speaking in a Facebook town hall, Miller and his colleagues urged listeners to get the vaccine when their turn arrives.

And though he offered no precise timeline, Miller said there may be "adjustments" in the vaccine priority order as soon as next week, based on updates the Department of Defense makes to its schema.

"When we get to the high-risk folks, we'll publicize that," Miller said. Those in that group, including eligible Tricare beneficiaries, will be invited to call a phone number to make an appointment to receive the vaccine. He did not give that number Wednesday.

Questions were sent to a base spokeswoman about what "adjustments" might be made.

The Air Force is not defining who is "high-risk," he said. U.S. Centers for Disease Control guidelines are followed there, with that category including older adults and people with serious medical conditions.

The vaccine will be available for uniformed and non-uniformed personnel, as well as dependents and retirees.

"We will continue to give shots until we run out of doses. But we will do it in that schema ... that I outlined," Miller said.

The base has seen no adverse reactions to the vaccine, said Col. Christian Lyons, commander of the 88th Medical Group.

Lyons appealed to listeners to dismiss vaccine skepticism, rumors and "misinformation."

"We know that those who engage with people, whom they trust, regarding their personal experiences with receiving the vaccine, in these cases, this has shifted many people's anxieties about receiving the vaccine to now a desire to receive the vaccine," Lyons said.

Lt. Col. (Dr.) Thad Ocampo, who is chief of the Allergy and Immunizations clinics at Wright-Patterson, maintained that the vaccine is safe, with "rigorous" testing conducted for some 70,000 trial subjects nationwide, achieving"95, 94% effectiveness."

"Over 5 million Americans across the nation have already received the vaccine, (but) we still have a lot of work ahead to get to that herd immunity," Ocampo said.

The base plans to host panels of physicians and experts on the vaccine to educate those within and outside the base fence, Lyons and Miller both said.

There was no "post-holiday" bump in COVID cases, Miller also said Wednesday.

"We are seeing great progress on the installation" in the battle against COVID, the colonel said. "You're doing awesome work."

The base remains in health protection condition "Bravo," and Miller said he doesn't see that changing any time soon.

Ohio's largest single-site employer, much of Wright-Patterson has been closed down for the past nearly 10 months of the global COVID-19 pandemic, with just 10% of the base's typical 30,000 military and civilian workers permitted to be physically on base in the pandemic's earliest weeks.

By May, commanders were allowed to bring up to 20% of their assigned workforce back to base offices. Most workers continued — and continue — to work from home or elsewhere.

Miller assumed command of the 88th Air Base Wing in June.

By September, Miller announced the prevailing health protection condition had shifted from "Charlie" to "Bravo," meaning half of the base's typical workforce could conceivably be permitted to return, boosting the daily presence on the base to 15,000 or so workers.

But Miller has repeatedly emphasized that reaching 15,000 on-site workers is not a target or a goal, and he has called on commanders to exercise caution in bringing workers back.

"Only bring the folks in that you need to bring in," Miller said Wednesday.

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