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446th Airlift Wing begins COVID-19 vaccinations

A Reserve Citizen Airman assigned to the 446th Airlift Wing receives the first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, Feb. 6, 2021.

A Reserve Citizen Airman assigned to the 446th Airlift Wing receives the first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, Feb. 6, 2021. The two-dose vaccine was recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration under an emergency use authorization and are currently offered to Defense Department personnel on a voluntary basis. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Ann Butler)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Rosemary Nantz, a Reserve Citizen Airman with the 446th Aeromedical Staging Squadron, receives her first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine from Tech. Sgt. Sarah Hora, an Air Force Reserve medical technician with the 446th Aeromedical Staging Squadron, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, Feb. 6, 2021

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Rosemary Nantz, a Reserve Citizen Airman with the 446th Aeromedical Staging Squadron, receives her first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine from Tech. Sgt. Sarah Hora, an Air Force Reserve medical technician with the 446th Aeromedical Staging Squadron, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, Feb. 6, 2021. In accordance with Defense Department guidance, the vaccine is being administered in phases to ensure personnel at risk of being exposed daily are prioritized to receive it first, including healthcare, emergency services, public safety, and command staff personnel. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Ann Butler)

U.S. Air Force Reservist Master Sgt. John Barnes, a medical technician with the 446th Aeromedical Staging Squadron, administers the first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to U.S. Air Force Reservist Tech. Sgt. Alexis Righero, an equal opportunity advisor with the 446th Airlift Wing, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, Feb. 6, 2021

U.S. Air Force Reservist Master Sgt. John Barnes, a medical technician with the 446th Aeromedical Staging Squadron, administers the first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to U.S. Air Force Reservist Tech. Sgt. Alexis Righero, an equal opportunity advisor with the 446th Airlift Wing, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, Feb. 6, 2021. Prioritized Department of Defense personnel are highly encouraged to take the vaccine in order to protect their health, families and community, and to mitigate public health risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Ann Butler)

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. --

The 446th Aerospace Medicine and Aeromedical Staging squadrons administered the first round of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington on Feb. 6-7.

First responders, healthcare providers and command staff assigned to the 446th Airlift Wing were prioritized in the wing’s first allotment, followed by high-risk populations, those in critical national capability positions and finally, healthy populations.

“We administered this vaccine very similar to the annual influenza; we completed a ‘line’ to inoculate personnel according to DoD priority guidelines” said Senior Master Sergeant Richard Yager, Chief of Health Services Management for the 446th Aerospace Medicine Squadron. “A notification was sent through the units to all applicable service members.”

Those Reserve Citizen Airmen who received the first dose can expect to receive the second dose during the March drill weekend. And, 446th AMDS anticipates administering the first dose to another group of volunteers.

The medicine squadron will run the same ‘line’ during the March UTA for all volunteering to receive the vaccine in the American Lake Conference Center here.

The Food and Drug Administration granted Emergency Use Authorization to the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines in December 2020.

Col. Paul Skipworth, the 446th Airlift Wing commander who received his second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine last month, had some initial concerns about the vaccines.

“I had questions, like many service members, so I researched the vaccine and the clinical trials,” Skipworth said. “Reading information from the FDA and medical sources armed me with much more confidence about the vaccines compared to what I was seeing in news articles and social media.”

For those on the fence about whether to volunteer to receive the vaccine, here’s a deeper dive into the vaccine. Know before you go.

Moderna COVID-19 vaccine: One of two mRNA vaccines approved by the FDA under the Emergency Use Authorization.

Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is an mRNA vaccine. mRNA vaccines are a relatively new type of vaccine to protect against infectious diseases. To trigger an immune response, many vaccines put a weakened or inactivated germ into our bodies. Not mRNA vaccines. Instead, they teach our cell how to make a protein – or even just a piece of a protein – that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. mRNA vaccines do not use the live virus that causes COVID-19.

No live virus, just “spike” proteins. Wait, what?

mRNA vaccines, like the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, are given in the upper arm muscle. Once the instructions (mRNA) are inside the immune cells, the cells use them to make the protein spike. After the protein spike is made, the cell breaks down the instructions and gets rid of them. mRNA never enters the nucleus of the cell, which is where our DNA (genetic material) is kept. The cell breaks down and gets rid of the mRNA soon after it is finished using the instructions.

Are mRNA vaccines, like Moderna’s, new? Yes and No. 

Researchers have been studying and working with mRNA vaccines for decades. Interest has grown in these vaccines because they can be developed in a lab using readily available materials, meaning the process can be standardized and scaled up making the vaccine development faster than traditional methods.

mRNA vaccines have been studied before for flu, Zika, rabies, and cytomegalovirus (CMV). As soon as the necessary information about the virus that causes COVID-19 was available, scientists began designing the mRNA instructions for cells to build the unique spike protein into an mRNA vaccine.

Beyond vaccines, cancer research has used mRNA to trigger the immune system to target specific cancer cell.

A clinical? Huh?

Approximately, 30,000 people participated in the clinical trials for the Moderna vaccine. Clinical trials for the Moderna vaccine include people of various ethnic categories. White (79.4%). Hispanic/Latino (20%). African American (9.7%). Asian (4.7%). Other races and ethnicities (<3%). As for age and sex, 52 percent of the participants were male, while 25% of the group were 65 years old and older. When diving deeper into the trial participants, 82-percent were considered to have an occupational risk of exposure to COVID-19 and 22.3-percent had at least one high-risk condition.

The FDA reviewed the clinical trials and it met the threshold to be approved under the Emergency Use Authorization. You can read about the clinical trials on the FDA’s website here.  Interesting fact: Nearly the same percent of participants who received the placebo (9.5% of the placebo group) reported systemic reactions persisting longer than 7 days, compared to those participants who received the actual vaccine (11.9% of the vaccine group).

According to the Centers of Disease Control, the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is a two-dose vaccine, given 28 days apart. The vaccine is 94.1 percent effective at preventing COVID-19 infection after the second dose. Individuals will not be considered protected until after they receive the second dose.

My body is building something. But, it hurts.

Maybe side effects?

After COVID-19 vaccination, you may have some side effects. This is a normal sign that your body is building protection. Most common side effects, after receiving the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, are pain, swelling or redness in the arm where you received your shot. Other effects may include chills, tiredness, and headaches throughout the rest of your body. These side effects usually start within a day or two of getting the vaccine. It may feel like flu symptoms, but they should go away in a few days.

“After getting the second dose, I had the worst aches I’ve had in years. But I knew it was my body’s immune response,” said Skipworth. “I decided one or two days of discomfort was more than worth the benefit of increasing my body’s ability to fight off a life-threatening disease.”

While most people may have mild adverse reactions to the vaccine, some may experience more severe reactions. If you are having an extreme allergic reaction to the vaccine, call 9-1-1. Also, notify your chain of command and the 446th Aerospace Medicine Squadron at 253-982-3518.

What did you say? Something about a herd.

According to the CDC, experts do not yet know what percentage of people would need to get vaccinated to achieve herd immunity to COVID-19. Herd immunity means that enough people in a community are protected from getting a disease because they’ve already had the disease or they’ve been vaccinated. CDC and other experts are studying herd immunity and will provide more information as it is available.

Though inoculations have begun in the wing, Skipworth urges Reserve Citizen Airmen to continue practicing risk mitigation efforts.

“Though a vaccine is here, we still cannot slack in our COVID-19 mitigation efforts,” said Skipworth. “I urge you to continue wearing appropriate masks, practicing physical distancing, washing hands, and following restriction of movement to protect our safety, as a large portion of the population will need to be vaccinated before COVID-19 risks diminish.”

The vaccine is encouraged for the overall health of the Air Force Reserve Forces. Receiving the vaccine helps lower the public health risks associated with COVID-19 pandemic as well as protect Reserve Citizen Airmen’s health and their families.

The CDC has more information on its website at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/ about the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, the clinical trials and the side effects.  Also, please refer to Air Force Reserve Command’s COVID-19 vaccine page at https://www.afrc.af.mil/COVID-19/Vaccine-Information/ for Reserve-centric information.

(Majority of the information for this article was taken from the Centers of Disease Control Website.)