ATLANTIC CITY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.J. – The 177th Medical Group administered the first set of 60 COVID-19 vaccinations to Airmen at the 177th Fighter Wing.
Some of the first unit members to receive the vaccine were U.S. Air Force Col. Bradford Everman, 177th Fighter Wing commander; Chief Master Sgt. William C. Perkins, 177th FW command chief; and Col. Eric N. Erickson Jr., 177th Medical Group commander, the three volunteering to lead the charge in vaccination.
“We found that, around the wing, our voluntary rate is fairly low,” said Everman. “There’s not a lot of trust in the system, so one of the things we discussed at the senior leader level is that we can help build trust by showing that we’re willing to take the vaccine right off the bat.”
Unit members who received the vaccine were chosen according to Department of Defense guidance and the phased priority schedule, said Erickson. It was essential to ensure that the members volunteered, as it is not a requirement.
“I didn’t want to be in a position to have to tell people, ‘Hey you ought to volunteer to get the vaccine,’ and have them say, ‘Did you do it?’ ‘Well, no, but you ought to go do it.’ And so, the way is to lead the way, so here we are. I really do think it’s the best way to protect the Airmen and protect the mission,” said Everman.
The decision to volunteer to take the vaccine under the Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) is a personal one, which all service members need to determine for themselves.
“Personally, I believe vaccination is an important tool along with social distancing and mask wear to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 to the most vulnerable members of our society and to help us ensure that our current health care personnel across the nation can get a reprieve from the year-plus crisis that has strained our health care systems,” said Erickson.
The 177th MDG has been working relentlessly to keep unit members healthy, continuing to advance their own methods of conducting operations through several training initiatives, as well as providing vaccinations to those who volunteered to take them.
“As with all other vaccinations, the 177th MDG is handling the COVID-19 vaccination with manufacturer, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and DOD guidance,” said Erickson. “Immunizations are a routine part of the mission to ensure readiness, and the COVID-19 vaccination is one more tool that we have to ensure mission success.”
“The 177th MDG has been fantastic,” said Everman. “... There are not enough words to describe how well the Medical Group is handling this, so I’m extremely impressed.”
Under the EUA, the Centers for Disease (CDC) has published guidance and data on the safety and efficacy of the Pfizer and Moderna Vaccines. The FDA is required to make decisions that are guided by science and data regarding authorization or approval of COVID-19 vaccines.
The CDC has a longstanding program known as the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) that is being used to identify and track adverse reactions, said Erickson. The CDC is also promoting the use of "V-safe After Vaccination Health Checker," a smartphone-based tool that uses text messaging and web surveys to provide personalized health check-ins after you receive a COVID-19 vaccination.
Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines can cause side effects that are similar to symptoms associated with other vaccines, such as injection site pain in the arm, fever, muscle pain, chills and headache, said Erickson.