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Camp Lejeune takes the high ground against COVID-19, combats virus with Pfizer vaccine

Naval Medical Center Camp Lejeune personnel administer the first doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on December 28, 2020.

U.S. MARINE CORPS

By TREVOR DUNNELL | The Daily News, Jacksonville, N.C. | Published: December 29, 2020

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JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — The inaugural vaccination phase has begun for frontline healthcare workers at Naval Medical Center Camp Lejeune, N.C., as they were the first to receive the facility's initial shipment of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine this week.

Officials say they are unable to disclose the number of doses the Department of Defense sent them or the number of doses administered on a daily basis due to security reasons. The doses were received over Christmas break.

Vaccinations for medical personnel at Camp Lejeune are currently administered on a voluntary basis, however, officials are strongly encouraging those who can get the vaccine to do so.

The medical center's efforts follow days after Fort Bragg's Womack Army Medical Center and Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Cherry Point began administering their first shipment. The DoD was initially allocated 43,875 doses as officials said Fort Bragg received a couple of thousand doses to start with.

With NMCCL now offering a COVID-19 vaccination in Onslow County alongside Onslow Memorial Hospital and the Onslow County Health Department, health officials on base are excited about the possibility of teaming up for the betterment of the community's fight against the virus.

"We believe once the vaccination becomes more available and the amount of personnel taking the vaccine increases, it will increase the safety of not only our personnel staff but their family and the community," NMCCL Director Captain Reginald Ewing said. "It will greatly decrease the public health risk at large."

The DOD's COVID-19 Vaccine Population Schema mirrors that of the phased plan passed down to civilian medical officials from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. Phase 1 includes all health providers, healthcare supports, and frontline workers.

There is not a timeline for when members of the military will begin to receive their first dose of the vaccination, however the DOD has included them in their schema plans.

Lt. Commander Rick Heckert, a pharmacist within NMCCL, was on hand Tuesday morning to receive his first dose of the vaccine. He explained his occupation has nothing to do with his choice in taking the vaccine but more the history behind how effective combating diseases has worked when the proper medicine is presented.

"It's only two doses and it is very important to take them because of the long history vaccines in this country have helped stop the spread of smallpox and other viruses," added Heckert. "Everyone should still read up on facts and ask questions, talk to their medical providers if they are unsure of what they should do."

After describing the side effects of getting his first vaccine the day prior, Captain Michael Sullivan jokingly described it as some mild soreness that didn't stray him away from doing a few push ups the next morning. Sullivan compared the shot to the annual flu shot.

Sullivan is a direct healthcare provider aboard Camp Lejeune as a pediatrician. The importance of him getting the vaccine is just like everyone else's. He doesn't want to pass the virus down to his patients.

"This vaccine is FDA authorized for emergency use and the current ones are highly effective with minimal side effects. I think it's beneficial for everyone to get the vaccine in order the break the cycle of transmission, improve everyone's health, and get back to a normal way of living."

Just like other medical facilities, NMCCL has a COVID-19 unit. Stress has been high around the country following reports regarding the shortage of hospital beds related to patients suffering from the virus. As of Tuesday morning, Ewings added Camp Lejeune does not have any in-patient individuals in their COVID-19 unit and things are going great in their current fight against the virus.

tdunnell@jdnews.com

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