NORFOLK, Va. (WRIC) — Since February, a group of military service members supporting the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) COVID-19 vaccination response has helped administer more than 1,434,000 vaccines to people in the U.S., according to Major General Jeff Van.
Van is the commanding general of Joint Task Force – Civil Support, which has provided assistance at 17 state-run, federally supported community vaccination centers in 12 different states and territories. The largest centers have the capability to administer up to 6,000 vaccines daily.
In Virginia, the task force supports the community vaccination center at Military Circle Mall in Norfolk.
“[The Department of Defense (DOD)] was selected to support the site here in Norfolk,” Van said. “There was structure to the FEMA-supported sites. It is medical providers, it is physicians and a lot of vaccinators. There’s 122 sailors here at the Norfolk site itself. Predominantly, we provide the vaccinations itself and the inter-medical support. But there are general purpose sailors who are down there, also.”
With FEMA acting as the lead federal agency on site, Van said that the vaccination centers operate at the direction of the governor. The allocated doses for these federally supported sites are different from those distributed to local health departments within the state.
“It’s still a whole-of-government approach where Virginia has an overall concept for how they’re vaccinating and where the vaccinations are going,” Van said. “Here, what’s different is you actually have federal personnel, federal sailor who are down there giving the vaccination. There’s not going to be a lot of difference in between if you went to a state-sponsored Department of Health, although we’re doing and we’re set up to do 3,000 shots a day.”
Van said that the community vaccination site in Norfolk is accepting walk-ups, although people can make appointments online.
“We are looking to put shots in everybody’s arms. ‘Mission First, People Always,'” he said. “If you’ll walk up, we’ll find a way to give you the shot.”
Van said that interacting with the people the armed forces are meant to serve has been simultaneously the most rewarding and most challenging part of this COVID-19 vaccination response effort.
“We are truly in places to where we want everybody to come and get the shot. So seeing our different population densities and seeing the underserved come through this site is both rewarding but challenging at the same time,” Van said. “Whether they’re Coast Guard, sailors, Army, soldiers, airmen, Marines, we have the whole-of-government DOD in support of all these different vaccine sites, and truly, serving and giving the vaccines to the people who we defend on a daily basis is critical and most rewarding.”
The task force’s stay at Military Circle Mall to assist with vaccinations is limited. But Van said that if Virginia chooses to extend the request to FEMA, the support group will stay as long as necessary.
“It is not often that you get to not just defend this country, but to serve this country in this way,” Van said. “We greatly appreciate the opportunity, and we look forward to everybody getting the shot.”