Col. Mario Washington, U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden commander, reviewed the voluntary nature of COVID-19 vaccination efforts and provided resources for vaccine consideration as a part of a virtual workforce engagement meeting Jan. 22.
“We are rolling into the vaccination phase of COVID-19,” Washington said. “What we are really doing is providing you with information to inform your decision.”
“This is voluntary,” he clearly stated at the opening of the vaccine section of the meeting.
According to Washington’s presentation, “the distribution process is phase-driven to protect our military community from COVID-19 as quickly as possible.”
The first phase for healthcare workers and first responders is ongoing; the next phase for highly deployable forces in Europe and high-risk populations is underway. Information on subsequent phases will be released as the information is made available.
“All vaccinations are a significant part of maintaining mental and physical fitness in fulfilling your commitment to serve and defend our nation,” according to the presentation. However, because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted Emergency Use Authorization of the two-shot Moderna vaccine, the Army cannot mandate its use on Army personnel. “When formally licensed by the FDA, the DoD may require a vaccine for military personnel or personnel in specific fields, as is the case for the influenza vaccine.”
“Again, I cannot make anyone take this shot,” he said. “I want to be very clear on that. It is a personal choice. However, this vaccine has been thoroughly vetted with a 94% effective rate.”
Washington’s presentation acknowledged that questions about side effects and how long the vaccination lasts remain considerations. Mild side effects seen in the clinical trials (such as fever, chills, tiredness and headache) have been observed in the Army’s initial rollout phase, including in Europe.
“The vaccination process is an important step in the process back to normalcy,” he said. “Army leaders have full confidence in the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine.”
Washington fielded several questions from the virtual audience of almost 200 garrison workers. Gordon Ferguson, physical security specialist at the garrison, asked, “Sir, after the second shot, then what? Mask? No mask? Lock down? Not locked down?”
Washington responded, “I get the second shot on 7 February, but I still have to follow all the protocols of all those who have not received any shots.” Regardless of vaccine status, everyone will continue to abide by garrison and host-nation mitigation measures to stop the spread of the virus.
“This vaccine coupled with continued health measures in place are the best defense against the virus,” Washington concluded. He encouraged everyone to make an informed decision regarding the vaccine as they considered taking it for the health of themselves and their families when the opportunity comes.
U.S. Army Europe and Africa and the Regional Health Command Europe websites have the latest information and link to other sites like the U.S. CDC and Operation Warp Speed. (www.rhce.amedd.army.mil and www.europeafrica.army.mil).