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Feature Stories

NEWS | Jan. 21, 2021

Erbil Air Base among first locations in CENTCOM to receive COVID-19 Vaccine

By Story by Staff Sgt. Noshoba Davis 256th Brigade Combat Team, Louisiana Army National Guard

ERBIL AIR BASE, Iraq – Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) recently received its first initial shipment of COVID-19 vaccines and distributed them throughout the Combined Joint Operations Area (CJOA).

CJTF-OIR received 300 vaccines for the CJOA, 110 of those were administered at Erbil Air Base (EAB). At this time, like many locations, CJTF-OIR’s supply of the vaccine is limited and will be administered to prioritized personnel.

“Both DOD and CENTCOM have established distribution plans that seek to identify individuals at highest risk for exposure or whom are critical operational assets,” said U.S. Navy Commander Christopher Call, EAB COVID-19 response officer. “Using these tools the CJTF-OIR leadership assessed the operational needs of the CJOA and selected volunteers that meet those criteria.”

The vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are currently the only COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in the U.S. Both of these vaccines use messenger RNA technology (mRNA) instead of a weakened or inactive germ like other virus vaccines. The mRNA technology focuses on specific traits of the virus, which teaches our immune systems to attack those traits and produce anti-bodies against those traits and the virus.

“Despite our best efforts with masks and social distancing COVID continues to be a major health and economic burden across the world,” said Call. “By receiving the vaccine, service members aren’t only protecting themselves but also their communities and our mission.”

Call continued to explain the benefits of receiving the vaccine, “Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines have proven to prevent 95% of symptomatic infections. As more and more individuals choose to be vaccinated, we will learn more about how it prevents transmission, asymptomatic infections, how long it lasts and its implications on herd immunity.”

U.S. Navy Petty Officer Third Class Diana Elston, a surgical technician with the Navy Expeditionary Medical Unit, was among the first personnel to get vaccinated at EAB.

“Short answer: I chose to get the vaccine not for myself, but for my family and patients,” said Elston. “Long answer: As a medical professional who has been exposed to the virus on multiple occasions; I’ve been lucky enough to not get the virus. If I were to get the virus, I would unfortunately put my family at a high risk of getting the virus as well. This is the same for the patients I see. I don’t want to infect anyone, especially when there is a way to possibly prevent that from happening.”

For service members that receive the vaccine at EAB the process is very simple and straight forward. Medical personnel explain the vaccine and possible side effects, which can include redness or soreness at the injection site and a low-grade fever. Service members then fill out a specific medical questionnaire before meeting with a medical provider to review the questionnaire. After receiving the vaccine service members are monitored for 15 minutes to ensure there are no adverse reactions to the vaccine.

Elston has the following advice for those unsure about receiving the vaccine, “Please do real medical research. There is so much good and solid research out there. Please stop listening to people’s opinions like a restaurant review. If we want the world to get back to being relatively normal, we must start taking real steps to make it happen.”

Each service member that is vaccinated receives a COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card. This card contains information about the vaccine received, such as the lot number of the dose and the date the second dose is needed to complete the vaccination series.

“We are continuing to work diligently to ensure that every service member who wants to be vaccinated has the opportunity. However, I am not aware of the specific details on when the next round of vaccinations will be available to us,” said Call.