Michigan Air National Guard Airmen briefed on COVID vaccine

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Anica Simmons,
  • Michigan National Guard

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. – Air Force Col. Kevin Bohnsack, state air surgeon of the Michigan Air National Guard, briefed Airmen at Battle Creek Air National Guard Base Oct. 23 to help them make an informed decision about the COVID-19 vaccine. 

The briefing was one of a series of talks and presentations coordinated by the 110th Medical Group as the deadline for Air National Guard members to receive the vaccinations draws near.

The briefings did not touch on policy, exemptions or other administrative details related to the vaccine, focusing exclusively on providing reliable medical information. Bohnsack said the medical groups at the 110th Wing, 127th Wing and the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center are making every effort to inform and educate Airmen.

“We have a charge from the secretary of the Air Force to engage with our Airmen to emphasize the importance of getting vaccinated,” said Bohnsack. “We have compiled subject matter experts from around the Guard, and today we are adding the input of one of the physicians who helped run a clinical trial for one of the vaccines.”

On Aug. 24, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered mandatory COVID vaccinations, with each service branch setting its own deadline for compliance. Air Force members are to be vaccinated by Nov. 2.

“There are still some concerns raised by Airmen regarding the speed at which the vaccine was developed and approved,” said Bohnsack. “We have very good background on the fact this vaccine is the product of decades of research by both government and private sector, and we are doing everything we can to get that information to all of our Airmen. We have a safe and effective vaccine to address the real and deadly threat of COVID-19.”

Dr. Steven Katzman is an internist at Beaumont Hospital and served as the Michigan principal investigator for a phase 2 / 3 COVID-19 vaccine trial. He joined the briefing to answer any questions about the speed at which the vaccine was approved for emergency use.

“Operation Warp Speed was an unprecedented partnership between the departments of Health and Human Services and Defense, which contracted with private industries,” said Katzman. “It cut out all of the time that is normally spent raising money and infrastructure to meet anticipated demand. For the first time, trial phases were allowed to overlap.”

Col. Shawn Holtz, commander of the 110th Wing, reminded Airmen that their Guard family is there to help with any uncertainty.

“I remember getting vaccines without explanation or background, and I made it my goal to get our Airmen as much information as possible for this one,” said Holtz. “It’s not my place to make these decisions for you, but it is my job to keep you all informed.”

Air Force Col. Janice Davis, commander of the 110th Medical Group, attended the briefing to provide information regarding pregnancy, breastfeeding and fertility. With her background as a nurse practitioner, she emphasized the ongoing monitoring for safety in the pregnant population and the potential value of vaccination for the baby.

“While there has been no evidence of increased risk during pregnancy, we do see some benefits for nursing mothers,” said Davis. “Babies can receive the antibody benefit through breastmilk.”

Medical professionals, chaplains, staff judge advocates, and leaders at every level are helping with the vaccine discussion across the Michigan Air National Guard. Air Force Lt. Col. Kurt Taylor, a chaplain with the 110th Wing, attended the briefing to better support the Airmen who come to him with questions.

“We have chaplains, we have mental health care providers, we have supervisors at all levels, and we have close friends in this organization,” said Taylor. “Utilize all of those to help with your decision. At the end of the day, take in all the information and follow your conscience.”

Airmen who are struggling with the decision to get vaccinated are encouraged to contact the medical group, chaplain, wellness center, or chain of command with any questions or concerns.