By U.S. Naval Air Station Sigonella Public Affairs
Naval Air Station (NAS) Sigonella received the first shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine Jan. 8 as part of the Department of Defense’s effort to protect its personnel against the virus.
The vaccine, developed by the American pharmaceutical company Moderna and the National Institutes of Health, was approved in late December by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration under an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA).
The vaccine requires two doses and will be administered on a voluntary basis utilizing a tiered approach beginning Jan. 9.
“Vaccines are an important weapon of choice in the public health arsenal against some infectious diseases,” said Capt. Denise Gechas, U.S. Naval Hospital Sigonella Commanding Officer. “Throughout the 19th century, vaccines have protected us from several dangerous, and often deadly, diseases such as polio and smallpox. So, it is no surprise to see a vaccine come to the rescue again. The COVID-19 pandemic has taken control of the entire world and it is such a relief to see science and technology come together to take some of it back. I am hopeful that our darkest days of this pandemic are behind us.”
While there will be a limited supply of the COVID-19 vaccine initially, the DoD is administering the vaccine using a phased approach. Vaccination distribution prioritization within DoD will be consistent with data-driven Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance for national prioritization.
For NAS Sigonella, this means that front-line medical staff and security forces will be offered the vaccine initially, followed by mission essential active-duty personnel and individuals in the high risk category as directed by their doctor. As more vaccinations become available, the vaccine will be offered to a greater number of people across the Sigonella community.
Among the first who volunteered to receive the vaccine was Hospitalman Donald Leal, who works in the USNH Sigonella emergency department.
"I feel great," said Hospitalman Donald Leal. "I appreciate the opportunity to show people to have faith in the vaccine and hope we can travel more freely again soon."
All DoD personnel are highly encouraged to take the vaccine to protect their health, their families, and their communities, as well as to lower the public health risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The public health professionals at U.S. Naval Hospital Sigonella, and our branch clinics in Souda Bay and Bahrain, are here to provide you with the latest vaccine information, so you can feel confident and well-informed when it is time to receive your vaccine,” said Gechas.
Coordinating the initial safe shipment of the vaccine was a unified effort between Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) Distribution Sigonella, U.S. Naval Forces Europe Detachment Maritime Ashore Support Team (NAVEUR DET MAST), U.S. Naval Hospital Sigonella, and NAS Sigonella.
DLA Distribution Sigonella coordinated the safe shipment of the vaccine while NAVEUR DET MAST provided a generator to facilitate cold storage of the vaccine. Additionally, U.S. Naval Hospital Sigonella worked hand-in-hand with the NAS Sigonella Emergency Management department to coordinate the inoculation phase. In conjunction with Commander, Task Force (CTF) 63, personnel assigned to the NAS Sigonella Operations department delivered vaccines to Naval Support Activity Souda Bay, Greece, via C-26D Metroliner aircraft on Jan. 9.
“I am incredibly proud of our community's resiliency and flexibility and how we have responded together to the challenges created by this ongoing pandemic," said Capt. Kevin “Kepper” Pickard, NAS Sigonella Commanding Officer. "I would like to personally thank our exceptional medical and emergency management teams for their tireless work to safely distribute this vaccine to our NASSIG community. The arrival of this vaccine represents a positive shift in gaining the upper hand on this virus, but there is much left to do before we get back to normal. Even after receiving the vaccine, one must still remain vigilant. Continue to observe the best practices that have worked so well in keeping COVID to a minimum on our base. But there is now a light at the end of the tunnel and we are well on our way to overcoming this virus. We will emerge stronger together."
Even after receiving the vaccine, all personnel are required to adhere to COVID-19 preventive methods, to include wearing a mask and maintaining social distancing. In addition, DoD personnel will still be subject to base, region, DoD and local national travel restrictions and curfews.
Information about the vaccine will continue to be distributed through USNH Sigonella and NAS Sigonella.
NAS Sigonella’s strategic location enables U.S, allied, and partner nation forces to deploy and respond as required to ensure security and stability in Europe, Africa and Central Command.