CAMP MURRAY, Wash. – Across Washington State, every Air National Guardsman is eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine on a voluntary basis, and many are choosing to do so.
On Jan. 8, several members of the 194th Wing and Western Air Defense Sector went through the vaccination process at Camp Murray. They were among the first few groups within the Washington Air National Guard to receive the vaccine.
“This is our path forward to getting back to a life without masks and social distancing,” said Col. Kenneth Borchers, 194th Wing commander. “I understand people’s hesitation, but I think this is the right way ahead, and as more information comes out on it, I think that will be proven true. I encourage people to seek out the information that is currently out there.”
Air Guardsmen opted in for their reasons but most wanted to contribute to the collective effort needed to push back against the COVID-19 virus.
“I decided to volunteer because I want us to get back to some kind of normal,” said Staff Sgt. Shayna Shon, a personnel specialist in the 225th Air Defense Group. “2020 was rough for me, so I think contributing to hopefully getting past the pandemic will make an impact for our country and improve my life personally.”
Part of the process included a lengthy brief from medical personnel. They covered the vaccination process, to include the two-shot series for the Moderna variant they would be receiving. They went over the statistics for vaccines already administered, and ample time was given to answer questions. This was an important step for some.
“My biggest concern was for the long-term effects, but the more I researched, the benefits outweighed [possible] side effects,” said Senior Master Sgt. Rebekah St. Romain, 225th Air Defense Group superintendent. “I’m hoping more people will get the vaccine, and they can see that it is OK. I feel it was the right decision. All the briefings and the info they provided helped alleviate my concerns.”
The exposure to factual information about the vaccines was a common turning point for many in their decision process.
“Initially this was not something I planned on doing. I was nervous because I didn’t know the facts,” said Tech. Sgt. Courtney Lawson, 225th Air Defense Group base records manager. “But my leadership providing [the facts] and my husband getting it changed my mind.”
According to the Food and Drug Administration, the COVID-19 vaccines have and are undergoing a rigorous development process that includes tens of thousands of study participants to generate the needed non-clinical, clinical, and manufacturing data.
The vaccines are being administered under an Emergency Use Act. An EUA is a mechanism to facilitate the availability and use of medical countermeasures, including vaccines, during public health emergencies, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic. For an EUA to be issued for a vaccine, the FDA must determine that the known and potential benefits outweigh the vaccine's known and potential risks.
The FDA says the COVID-19 vaccine has been developed so quickly because U.S. government agencies, international counterparts, academia, nonprofit organizations and pharmaceutical companies developed a coordinated strategy for prioritizing and speeding development of the most promising vaccines.
Brig. Gen. Gent Welsh, Washington Air National Guard commander, has made getting vaccines to those who want them his organization’s highest priority. He was confident that a few hundred members would be vaccinated by Jan. 10 and has a plan in place to reach the rest of those wanting the vaccine in coming weeks.
Information is readily available for those who have questions about the vaccine and the process. The vaccine has a stellar track record with the more than 22 million people who had already received it as of Jan. 9.
“This is an optional vaccine. This is not mandatory at this time,” said Borchers. “Whether to receive it or not is up to each of you. There’s no negative consequence to opting out. We all need to make up our own minds based on what we know, what we’re learning, and what new reliable information is made available.”