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From coast to coast, Navy personnel helping stop COVID-19 spread

Image of Military personnel wearing face mask getting people ready for the COVID-19 vaccine. Navy Capt. Benjamin Schwartz (left), from Navy Medicine Readiness Training Command Bremerton, is supporting community-based vaccination sites in New Jersey. FEMA personnel along with the Department of Defense’s Title 10 Vaccination Support Team are helping residents to get vaccinated for COVID-19 (Photo by: Kenneth Wilsey, Federal Emergency Management Agency)

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Navy Medicine Readiness Training Command Bremerton has sent several staff members across the continent to aid the Department of Defense Community Vaccination Center support.

Navy Capt. Benjamin Schwartz, chief experience officer and pharmacist, and Navy Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Erick Morcillo of surgical services are deployed as part of U.S. Northern Command 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, augmenting the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The two departed in March with a Navy and Army team of 23 members 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 helping to provide Moderna COVID-19 vaccinations to more than 1,800 people weekly in three urban underserved communities in 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 that include local churches and schools.

The DOD received a request from FEMA in February for support in administering COVID-19 vaccine at 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 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 military campaigns from World War Two to the present.

"The greatest challenge to our country right now is the pandemic," Austin said.

Schwartz, Morcillo, and others on teams at approximately 17 community vaccination centers in 12 states are taking on that task to help eliminate the virus. Their efforts are adding up. According to statistics from U.S. Northern Command, as of April 16, 2021, over 3 million vaccinations have been administered by active duty DOD service members in communities across the country.

"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 is received, my expertise in pharmacy enables safe administration of vaccine," he said. "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," said Schwartz.

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