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Eielson, Fort Wainwright begin vaccinating key active-duty, civilian personnel for COVID-19

American Society of Military Engineers

Two military installations in the Interior have begun administering COVID-19 vaccinations to personnel who need it most, because of the importance of their job.

Medical specialists at both Fort Wainwright and Eielson Air Force Base began giving the COVID shots last week to people who are at the top of the list of essential workers.

“We first vaccinated emergency-services personnel, such as firefighter and police officers, and medical personnel at the hospital,” says Fort Wainwright spokesperson Eve Baker. The COVID-vaccination priority given to those essential workers is based on guidelines developed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Both soldiers and civilians working in those positions got the first vaccines, Baker said in an interview Monday. She says they volunteered for the shots, because the military, like other institutions, is offering the shots under an emergency authorization that enabled rapid development of the vaccine.   

“On Fort Wainwright, the vaccination is voluntary,” Baker said. “Because of the emergency-use authorization, we’re not making it mandatory.”

The emergency authorization has caused concern among some Americans. But a doctor at Eielson says the vaccine was approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration. Major Trevor Peterson said in an online talk that only a few of those who got the shot reported mild discomfort during the clinically conducted trial.

“They screened them for side effects every seven days throughout the trial period,” Peterson said, “and what they found the most common side effects were what you would’ve assumed to have with any vaccine. So, mild soreness of the shoulder, headache, fatigue, body aches, chills…”

Both Eielson and Fort Wainwright are using a vaccine developed by Massachusetts-based drug-maker Moderna, which requires two shots to be given 28 days apart. An Eielson spokesperson said in an online post that base medical personnel have completed the first round of vaccinations and are now preparing for the next.

Baker says for now vaccinations are ongoing at Fort Wainwright. She says the scheduling of shots depends largely on the careful logistics necessary for handling the vaccine up to the point that it’s injected into someone’s arm.

“Because of the amount of doses per vial and because of the unique cold storage and thawing requirements for the vaccines, we have to have a certain number of people lined up at a certain time so they can all receive the vaccine together,” she said.

Fort Greely and Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson aren’t administering the shots – at least not yet. But a JBER spokesperson said Monday that base officials expect they’ll begin offering the vaccine early in the coming year.

Tim has worked in the news business for over three decades, mainly as a newspaper reporter and editor in southern Arizona. Tim first came to Alaska with his family in 1967, and grew up in Delta Junction before emigrating to the Lower 48 in 1977 to get a college education and see the world.