MADISON, Wis. – Citizen-Soldiers and -Airmen from the Wisconsin National Guard have helped local health departments administer more than 60,000 vaccines across Wisconsin since establishing the first mobile vaccination teams in late January.
Guard personnel have responded to requests for assistance in approximately a dozen Wisconsin counties, from high schools and county fairgrounds to local municipal buildings and smaller clinics.
Mobile vaccination teams are a joint effort between the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS), the Wisconsin National Guard and a team of vaccinators.
Generally, the teams consist of six people, including four Soldiers and Airmen from the Wisconsin National Guard. Guard members assist with initial triage and greeting, check-in, and monitoring after the shot is administered. Two vaccinators – usually non-Guard – administer the vaccine.
“We’re helping the local communities with their own vaccine sites,” said Spc. Brandon Mueller, a Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldier assisting at a vaccination facility in Milwaukee County. “We’re helping with anything they need. So we can work in the front reception area. We can help people through doors. We can help in the observation area. We can do anything that the public health asks us to.”
Mueller, a medic assigned to Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry, has been mobilized with the Wisconsin National Guard for nearly a year as part of the state’s pandemic response.
These mobile vaccination teams are dispatched to sites when the local or tribal health department asks the state for assistance.
One of the larger goals of the mobile vaccination teams is to ensure that underserved populations and agencies that don’t have the resources to run clinics have access to the vaccine.
“It’s a lot of just whatever people need,” said Spc. Logan Nguyen, a horizontal engineer assigned to Company B, 173rd Brigade Engineer Battalion, who has been part of the Guard’s mobilization since May. “The National Guard’s been supporting the civilian roles with just being an extra helping hand.”
Tech. Sgt. Tyler Schmitz, a member of the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s 128th Air Control Squadron at Volk Field Combat Readiness Training Center, is a mobile vaccination team leader who has performed a variety of roles since mobilizing for the COVID response May 1.
“I control aircraft normally, so this is definitely outside my vault,” he said.
Schmitz has been impressed with the Guard’s flexibility and ability to adapt to any mission. Like Schmitz, every other Soldier and Airman has a different job in the military – whether they serve in logistics, field artillery, personnel management, infantry, medical or other fields.
“I think it’s huge, just like the logistics like how we’ve been able to sustain such a large mission set within the state, and we’ve had thousands of people on orders to support this,” Schmitz said. “I think it’s just, the logistical feat is impressive.”
Schmitz noted the contrast between serving at a COVID testing site and now helping local health departments administer vaccines.
“I like the vaccination side just because it’s a lot more cheerful,” he said. “People are just so much happier to be here. A lot of these over 75, over 65-year olds, this is the first time they’ve been able to get out of the house, and they can get the vaccination, see their families. So I definitely really enjoy this compared to the swab site.”
The Wisconsin National Guard initially had nine mobile vaccination teams available to serve the state. That number has swelled to 17 as the state continues to expand vaccine eligibility.
“It takes a lot of work to get needles in arms, but between the entire DHS and Wisconsin National Guard Vaccination Taskforce and Joint Task Force-64, we're making it happen,” said Capt. Amanda Dickenson, the Wisconsin National Guard’s officer in charge for the vaccine and specimen collection action team. “We have another 17,000 vaccinations projected just this week, so we're steadily increasing in our abilities to educate and demonstrate to the local and tribal health departments what the National Guard and our mobile vaccination teams can provide to counties and tribes all over the state.”
Guard members are also helping manage vaccine inventory at sites across the state, preparing vaccine shipments for transport to vaccination centers around Wisconsin.
Staff Sgt. Katie Theusch contributed to this report.