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When more supply available, sub base prepared to administer 2,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses per day

In a matter of hours Wednesday morning, more than 500 sailors at the Naval Submarine Base were vaccinated against COVID-19.

“We have the capability to double this at a moment’s notice,” said John Varone, the base’s emergency manager, standing in the base’s spacious Morton Hall Gymnasium, where the basketball courts are now occupied by medical personnel giving sailors shots.

“Our goal is to be able produce 2,000 (vaccinations) in a day,” Varone said. 

Supply remains the biggest obstacle to doing that, he said, though the base is receiving more regular shipments of the Moderna vaccine and is holding at least one of these mass vaccination clinics a week.

The military has set up its own system for distributing the vaccine separate from the general public, relying on its expertise in logistics and its experience administering large-scale vaccination clinics for the flu and in training scenarios.

But similar to the general public, the military is seeing resistance among some of its members to getting the vaccine, which is still voluntary at this point given it does not yet have full approval from the Food & Drug Administration.

Pentagon officials told Congress last week that one-third of troops have declined to take the vaccine so far.

At the sub base, thousands of "mission essential" personnel, including submarine crews, medical staff and emergency responders, have taken the vaccine. The base recently opened up vaccinations to veterans and retirees age 75 and older who are patients at the naval clinic.

The vaccine likely will become a requirement for service members in the future. But in the meantime, military leaders are pushing to get large numbers of their members inoculated, saying this is the best way to defeat COVID-19.

While initial, internal surveys showed some reluctance among sailors at the base to taking the vaccine, that trend has improved, said base Commander Capt. Todd Moore, who has hosted a series of virtual town halls to answer questions and dispel misinformation about the vaccine.

Moore said base officials continue to survey sailors about their willingness to get the vaccine, and "re-engage" with those who are still on the fence when more vaccine doses become available.

Among those initially wary was Master-at-Arms 1st Class Daniel Wright, 30, who has been in the Navy 12 years.

Wright, of Tucson, Ariz., a member of the base's security forces, opted not to get the vaccine when it was first offered to him, primarily because his daughter's due date was three days after he'd receive his first shot.

"I was really afraid to be sick with a newborn, so that was my biggest reason," he said.

Wright also had questions about potential side effects and whether he would have to miss work if he did experience side effects. Base officials thoroughly answered his questions, he said.

Once the opportunity presented itself again, Wright, who said he also felt reassured by experiences of many of his co-workers who got inoculated in the first round, put out his arm. He said he did it for his wife and newborn daughter at home.

"I'm the risk to the family because I do come into contact with a lot of people every day," he said.

j.bergman@theday.com

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