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One of the first doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine is given at Naval Medical Center San Diego, Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020.
One of the first doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine is given at Naval Medical Center San Diego, Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. (Elisha Smith/U.S. Navy)

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The Navy’s top officer urged all sailors to “strongly consider” receiving the coronavirus vaccine in a message Wednesday after the Pentagon began distributing the long-awaited shots to military health care personnel the day before.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday in his message to the fleet said the vaccines “are a proven effective measure to better protect you, our Navy and our nation from this insidious threat.” He also pledged to take it “shortly after it is made available” to senior Defense Department leadership.

“I ask that every member of our Navy team strongly consider receiving the vaccine not only for yourself, but for your shipmates, your family, and your fellow citizens,” he wrote.

The vaccine is not yet available to all hands, given the initial “finite supply,” Gilday said in his message. Medical personnel and emergency workers “most at risk of exposure” are receiving it first. Gilday said this process “will take time, likely into January.”

One vaccine, produced by Pfizer and BioNTech, was approved Friday by the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use and is being distributed in the United States. Another by Moderna goes before the FDA this week. Drugs approved for emergency use require recipients to volunteer for inoculations, the Pentagon has said.

When the supply increases, Gilday said the doses will be doled out in accordance with mission needs.

“We will make the vaccine available more broadly through a tiered plan as production ramps up, prioritizing those executing our most critical missions,” Gilday said in the message. “I ask for your patience until the vaccine is available for you, and your continued compliance with those health measures we currently have in place.”

The coronavirus has caused major issues for the service this year. Prevention measures kept sailors out to sea for record amounts of time, saw sailors spending weeks in quarantine before deployments and delayed thousands of permanent changes of station.

Several outbreaks sidelined ships on patrol. The USS Kidd spent more than a month in port in San Diego when about 330 of its crew contracted the virus. More than a quarter of the USS Theodore Roosevelt’s crew — 1,271 sailors — tested positive and one died in a March outbreak that diverted the aircraft carrier to Guam for a month.

Gilday in his message said the “return to normal” can begin “by maximizing vaccination among our force and maintaining our mitigation measures of physical distancing, mask wearing, and handwashing.”

“I continue to be extremely proud of our collective resilience and grit during this challenging time. But we must remain vigilant, even after vaccinations occur,” he wrote. “Safe and healthy is the goal for 2021! Together, we will make this happen.”

doornbos.caitlin@stripes.com Twitter: @CaitlinDoornbos

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