JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska — An initial shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech arrived at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, Dec. 31, 2020, and inoculations began the same day.
The vaccine is part of Operation Warp Speed, a national initiative to accelerate the development, production and distribution of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics. The vaccine was approved by the Food and Drug Administration under an emergency use authorization and is completely voluntary.
One of the healthcare workers first in line to get vaccinated was U.S. Air Force Capt. Orlando Cabigas, a clinical nurse with the 673d Health Care Operations Squadron Emergency Services Flight.
“I volunteered to get the COVID-19 vaccine because I'm an emergency nurse,” Cabigas said. “I work near or close to the front lines of this pandemic and I hope to be part of the solution. I’m looking forward to the day when we can all come out and shake hands again and be in the same room without masks.”
At this time, like many other locations, JBER’s supply of the vaccine is limited and will be administered to prioritized personnel, beginning with healthcare workers. This is in line with the Department of Defense’s phased approach to prioritize the administration of the vaccine. As production and distribution continues, DoD beneficiaries will be notified when the voluntary vaccine is available to them.
The vaccine developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and the vaccine developed by Moderna are currently the only COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in the U.S. Unlike many other virus vaccines that use a weakened or inactive germ, both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines use messenger RNA (mRNA) technology.
Although mRNA vaccines are new, they have been studied before. The technology has also been used in cancer research to cause an immune response that destroys cancer cells.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health, mRNA vaccines employ the safe and flexible properties of mRNA to deliver information to our immune system. Our cells use this information to learn how to make a harmless protein to trigger an immune response and thus produce antibodies. This protects us from the live virus if it enters our body because our immune system will already know how to fight off the virus.
“I trust that the professionals who developed the vaccine went through the clinical trials, and the FDA gave emergency authorization for use,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Kenneth Dunham, a registered nurse with the 673d Inpatient Operations Squadron Multi-Service Unit, shortly before receiving the vaccine. “With any vaccine, there is always a risk, but the benefits greatly outweigh that risk.
“I've known people who have died from or have had serious complications from COVID,” Dunham continued. “As a nurse who directly cares for both COVID and non-COVID patients, getting the vaccine gives me peace of mind that I have a reduced risk of transmitting or contracting COVID and passing it along to my patients or family.”
The vaccine is an important step in substantially reducing the public health risks associated with the coronavirus pandemic. After receiving the vaccination, wearing a mask and physical distancing are still required until the CDC determines the pandemic risk is diminished.