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NEWS | Dec. 31, 2020

Virginia National Guard begins COVID-19 vaccinations

By Cotton Puryear JFHQ Public Affairs

RICHMOND, Va. — Members of the Virginia National Guard began receiving the COVID-19 vaccine Dec. 31, 2020, as part of the national rollout established by the Department of Defense and National Guard Bureau. Distribution of the vaccine will be in accordance with guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control, Department of Defense and National Guard Bureau.

“Each individual service member will decide whether they will receive the COVID-19 vaccination,” said Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia. “We encourage Virginia National Guard personnel to discuss their options with their loved ones and health care professionals.” 

Williams stressed the vital importance of ensuring those discussions are based on facts from trusted official sources and not misinformation that could potentially put lives at risk. Personnel will be asked to provide their preferences to their chain of command, and, if they elect to receive the vaccine, will be notified when and where to get vaccinated.

Virginia National Guard COVID-19 Vaccination Resource Page:

“This is an important, anticipated and much-welcomed chapter in our collective fight against COVID-19, and it is a huge positive the Virginia National Guard has been offered these vaccines early in the overall national rollout of vaccines,” said Col. Robert C. Mancini, the VNG state surgeon. “These vaccines provide 90-plus percent protection against COVID-19 infections, and this is much higher than any other tool available to us.  I am confident the benefits of the vaccines far out-weigh any potential risks, and I plan to receive it as soon as it is my turn.”

The vaccine will be administered in three phases. During the first phase, priority will go to personnel conducting COVID-19 testing, emergency services and public safety personnel such a medical, police, security and firefighters, essential personnel conducting maintenance operations and senior leaders. In the second phase, priority will go personnel preparing to mobilize and all other essential personnel. In the third phase, priority will go to all other healthy service members and civilian employees.

Mancini said it is understandable for service members to have questions about the vaccine and offered these key points:

- The VNG has been designated to receive the Moderna vaccine.

- There is no live virus, weakened virus or dead virus in either vaccine, so it is not possible to “catch” or transmit COVID-19 by getting vaccinated, and there is no risk to any family members.

- These vaccines contain messenger RNA, specifically a short strand of mRNA, that codes for proteins in the surface spikes. The vaccine works by delivering these short strands of mRNA into host human cells, and the cells then make spike proteins. The proteins made by our own cells then elicit an immune response. 

- The mRNA strands are fragile and become destroyed by human cells, leaving no permanent trace and are not incorporated into the human genome.

- Since no pregnant or breastfeeding people were included in the studies, an abundance of caution on DoD’s part leads to the recommendation that pregnant or breastfeeding people not be vaccinated.

Both vaccines are a two-shot series, and both shots need to be of the same vaccine. The Moderna vaccine shots are spaced four weeks apart.

Mancini said that as with many other vaccines, reactions such as aches at the injection site and fatigue can happen.

Even if you have already tested positive for COVID-19, it is still recommended to receive the vaccine to decrease the risk of contracting it again since re-infections can and have happened, he said.

Before receiving the vaccine, a service member should be well and free of any COVID-19 or cold-like symptoms for two weeks. Since we don’t know if the COVID-19 vaccine interacts with any other shots, service members’s should wait two weeks after getting their COVID-19 shot before getting any other type of vaccine.

While COVID vaccines are an important and effective tool, it will take many months before a high-enough percentage of the population is vaccinated to effectively prevent the spread of the disease, Mancini said. He emphasized It remains critically important for everyone to continue to wash their hands, wear a mask and maintain six feet social distancing. 

Approximately 120 VNG Soldiers and Airmen are currently providing support, including COVID-19 testing sample collection and personal protective equipment fit testing and training. VNG COVID-19 response missions initially began in April 2020, and since that time, personnel have collected more than 146,000 sample collections at sites across the commonwealth. They’ve also fitted more than 4,000 personnel from various organizations for N95 respirator masks, and trained hundreds more to conduct fit testings for their own organizations.

Missions from April though July 2020 included providing support to food banks across the state, helping distribute nearly 1,350,000 pounds of food. VNG personnel also provided more than 51,000 hours in planning augmentation to Virginia Department of Emergency Management.

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