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Taking on COVID from Coast to Coast – Navy Medicine helps local support efforts

26 April 2021

From Douglas Stutz

BREMERTON, Wash. - From coast to coast, Navy Medicine personnel are helping to stop the spread of COVID-19.

From the Pacific Northwest to the eastern seaboard, Navy Medicine Readiness Training Command (NMRTC) Bremerton has sent several staff members across the continent to aid the Department of Defense Community Vaccination Center support.

Capt. Benjamin Schwartz, chief experience officer and pharmacist and Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Erick Morcillo of Surgical Services are currently deployed as part of U.S. Northern Command augmenting the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), lead federal agency, to assist whole-of-government vaccination efforts in New Jersey

Schwartz and Morcillo are but two of approximately 6,000 Navy Medicine active and reserve component personnel deployed in support of operational COVID-19 missions.

The two departed in March with a Navy and Army team of 23 members sourced from across the nation. As part of DoD’s Title 10 Vaccination Support Team, they have been working directly with FEMA, Joint Task Force Civil Support, New Jersey State Police, other law enforcement officers, local departments of health, AmeriCorps, Rutgers University nursing students, and other DoD staff and partners.

They are currently helping to provide Moderna COVID-19 vaccinations to more than 1,800 people weekly in three urban underserved communities within Orange and Newark, New Jersey.

“We are in a supporting role to FEMA and New Jersey including relevant departments of health,” said Schwartz, working out of vaccination sites which include local churches and schools.

It was in February that DoD received a request from FEMA for support in administering COVID-19 vaccine at various locations across the country. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin approved the request to augment and expedite vaccinations nation-wide, ordering the first contingent of more than 1,000 active duty military personnel to support state vaccination sites. As Secretary Austin announced, DoD “must help the Federal Government move further and faster to eradicate the devastating effects of the coronavirus.”

The fatality figures are daunting. The virus has claimed more American lives than those lost in all previous military campaigns from World War Two to the present.

“The greatest challenge to our country right now is the pandemic,” stated Secretary Austin.

Schwartz, Morcillo and others on assembled joint teams at approximately 17 community vaccination centers in 12 states are daily taking on that task to help eliminate the virus.

Their collective efforts are adding up. According to complied statistics from U.S. Northern Command, as of April 16, 2021, over three million vaccinations have been administered by active duty U.S. DoD service members in communities across the country.

Schwartz affirms that every administered dose is helping stop the spread of the virus.

“Our team, along with other joint teams supporting urban underserved communities, is not only increasing the total number of people vaccinated, but is specifically increasing the percentage of people of color vaccinated,” said Schwartz. “The soft power and healing hands we project in urban underserved communities throughout our COVID-19 vaccine mission has made a difference not only in the health of the people we serve, but also a lasting positive impact in hearts and minds.”

With his Navy Medical Service Corps background and experience in pharmacy, Schwartz has provided crucial capability in vaccine handling.

“Once daily supply of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine vials are received, my expertise in pharmacy enables safe administration of vaccine. Throughout the day, we prepare dosages for administration and ensure other members on the team appropriately prepare dosages.”

One of those team members is Morcillo.

“HM3 Morcillo has been instrumental in administering Moderna COVID-19 vaccines to community members. He has also served as a translator for those who speak Spanish,” Schwartz said, adding that all service members have made a favorable impression in providing support in an area where the presence of Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine uniforms isn’t commonplace.

“Many of the community members I have interacted with have voiced their appreciation of the service we provide. I feel positive about the work we are doing, and having the community's support is very meaningful,” remarked Schwartz.


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