McChord proves mass vaccinations possible

By Tech. Sgt. Timothy Chacon, 62nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs on November 10, 2016

Every year airmen are required to get vaccinated for the flu virus, but not every year do more than 1,200 airmen get vaccinated by one clinic, in one day.

The 62nd Medical Squadron conducted a point of dispensing exercise Oct. 28, at McChord Field to practice providing mass vaccines to the base populace in the event of an outbreak of potentially deadly diseases. Taking advantage of the exercise simulation and the already set up process, the medical squadron took the opportunity to also administer the real-world annual flu vaccine to airmen.

The 62nd MDS did not conduct the exercise because of an actual direct concern for a threat or under the direction of a higher command. They conducted the exercise for readiness preparation for "what if" scenarios.  

"The 62nd MDS does not have an inspection driven obligation to perform this exercise, we do have a moral imperative to remain ready to respond to highly unlikely catastrophic events in order to protect our population, save lives, and prevent suffering," said Lt. Col. Daniel Murray, 62nd MDS commander. "This point of dispensing exercise enables us to do that. Even though they are unlikely, events like this do occur. The only question is ‘will it happen to us?' Since we are unable to answer that question, we must remain prepared and be vigilant in (our) preparation."

The main intent of the exercise was not primarily about the administering of the flu vaccine, but rather proving that large amounts of McChord airmen could be processed through a vaccine line. The addition of the flu vaccine just added to the overall success of the exercise.

"In order to leverage this opportunity to be a ‘win, win, win' we provide the real world flu vaccination," said Murray. "The first win is for the patient who gets protected from a disease that kills more than 36,000 Americans every year. The second win is for the community who is protected from the disease by a high level of vaccination. The third win is for the Air Force, our country and the mission, as readiness rates are significantly improved by providing vaccinations."

The flu, although a routine occurrence, can have a major impact on the Air Force and its members.

"The number one threat that keeps warfighters from being able to execute our nation's defense objectives is disease and non-battle injury," said Murray. "The risk of this is significantly reduced through vaccinations for preventable disease, including influenza."

Attempting to organize, transport, and vaccinate 90% of the base populace is a task that takes multiple units working together and is not easily accomplished by just one unit. Along with the medical portion, a logistical aspect of gas mask inspection was also added to exercise processing line.

"The key to the success of this effort was a spectacular group of people who worked hard as a team; their willingness to collaborate and to work toward the goal," said Murray. "The medical, logistics and communication teams, with the unmitigated support of their commanders, were able to identify issues, develop solutions and create a successful means to achieve the end state of rapid, safe, and efficient vaccination and simulated medical therapy for thousands of patients."

Not only that, but we were further able to leverage the opportunity to ensure yet another readiness item. (It ensured) personnel who have been issued gas masks have current, functional and effective equipment."

Overall the exercise was about readiness, not just for the current flu season, but for any future threats. The airmen of the 62nd MDS and all of McChord train regularly to ensure they are prepared and strive to improve their weakness and identify their strengths.

"The adage goes ‘you play how you practice' so conversely you practice how you play, if we never put this concept to practice we would not know the full limit of our capabilities," said Master Sgt. Kevin Rumph, 62nd MDS operational medical flight chief.  "To establish (our limits) we need max participation because, ultimately the point of this exercise is that it could save lives."