RICHMOND, Va. — The Virginia National Guard continues to support COVID-19 response missions across Virginia with task forces conducting administrative and logistical support to vaccine clinics, and providing mobile vaccine teams to help administer shots in support of local, state and federal agencies. As part of their ongoing missions, the VNG’s COVID-19 response teams remain flexible to adapt to many types of missions in changing environments.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency opened a community vaccination clinic March 29, 2021, at the Military Circle Mall in Norfolk, Virginia, with Brig Gen. James Ring, the VNG Director of the Joint Staff, serving as the dual-status commander. While active-duty Sailors assigned to the Portsmouth Naval Medical Command and Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek - Fort Story are providing the staffing for the main clinic, VNG mobile vaccination teams have been helping augment efforts to vaccinate the surrounding community during “spoke missions,” taking vaccination shots on the road to underserved communities in Hampton Roads.
“The VNG welcomes the opportunity to team with our federal, state and local partners in COVID-19 response,” said Ring. “We’re glad to be part of the national and commonwealth effort to mitigate the effects of this global pandemic in our communities. The support of FEMA has enabled Virginia to speed the vaccine response to our local communities.”
According to 2nd Lt. Kyle Rash, one of VNG’s mobile vaccination team leaders, their capability is filling a void between small, private clinics which can vaccinate up to 150 people a day, and large clinic hubs like the FEMA site at Military Circle Mall, which can vaccinate thousands daily.
“The need for these medium-size satellite clinics existed and is something that falls in line with the capabilities that our mobile vaccination teams can provide,” explained Rash. “For these, FEMA provides the overall operational oversight and coordination with the local communities and VNG personnel provide a portion of the manpower that is required to make the operation happen, and at the end of the day the community is better served for it.”
These medium-sized mobile clinics are targeting some of Hampton Roads’ underserved communities, providing vaccination shots to some of the area’s most vulnerable citizens. Sites for these clinics include churches and even Norfolk-area public schools.
“Many of the members of the audience we are able to reach out to may be of the high risk or vulnerable category and may not have as many opportunities to receive a vaccination or support,” said Rash. “Knowing that we are making a difference in these communities is a very rewarding aspect of the missions, and this is one of components of the mission that keeps the teams morale high and steady as we continue to travel across the state conducting these operations.”
“Being able to help the underserved is always a joy and also brings joy to the people who come to the site for their vaccinations,” said Staff Sgt. Matthew Collier, one of the mobile vaccination team members. “No better job.”
VNG teams supported the spoke clinics throughout the month of April and missions are scheduled to continue through May and into June. Most of the missions have resulted in between 100 and 150 shots facilitated, though the teams are capable of providing more than double that number at each site.
“The satellite clinics are realistically outfitted to conduct a rough maximum throughput of about 400 a day, but we have not met that yet,” explained Rash. “If we do exceed that number, FEMA is often able able to work out solutions so that they are not turning anyone away.”
For Rash, it’s the impact on the community that makes his team’s efforts worth it.
“It is rewarding to see the impact and know that we are able to better protect our neighbors and communities against the ever-changing pandemic. Some of these community members are high-risk and vulnerable and may work some of the most essential jobs in the community but have limited access to receive the vaccine,” said Rash. “Knowing that we can provide that to them and knowing the impact it may have is rewarding. The team-members are always optimistic and ready to do more for the community throughout the continuation of the response missions.”
In Nottoway County, VNG Soldiers and Airmen assigned to another COVID-19 support team are also adapting to new missions. After weeks of providing vaccination and wraparound logistics and administrative support for a vaccination clinic opened in April 2021 by the Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management in Blackstone, Virginia, those Soldiers and Airmen are now taking vaccinations out into the community to help reach more citizens. Those smaller, mobile clinics are taking place at local schools and other smaller sites.
“The VNG remains appreciative of the outstanding work of our military service members and the support of their civilian employers during this period of prolonged emergency response operations,” said Ring.
As of May 13, 2021, VNG COVID-19 mobile vaccination teams have administered nearly 45,000 shots across Virginia. VNG personnel have also conducted administrative and logistics support at community vaccination clinics across the commonwealth which have facilitated more than 437,000 vaccinations.
In addition to the vaccine support, VNG Soldiers and Airman have conducted more than 179,000 COVID-19 test sample collections, and have conducted thousands of N95 respirator mask fit testings and trainings. 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 VDEM.
Localities looking for testing and training support should contact VDH directly for scheduling.