Fort Leonard Wood begins COVID-19 vaccination program

Brian Hill
Fort Leonard Wood
Serena Detlie, a nurse in General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital's emergency department, received the first COVID-19 vaccine at Fort Leonard Wood Jan. 11 from fellow GLWACH nurse Michele Nichols.

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital began administering COVID-19 vaccinations today after receiving a limited number of vaccines following the FDA’s recent Emergency Use Authorization.

Individuals, representing Fort Leonard Wood’s medical community, law enforcement and fire department were vaccinated, following a prioritization strategy established at the Department of Defense level to be used here as vaccines are received.

According to Col. Aaron Pitney, GLWACH commander, while there is limited vaccine availability, vaccination distribution prioritization will focus on those providing direct medical care, maintaining essential national security and installation functions, deploying forces and those beneficiaries at the highest risk for developing severe illness from COVID-19.

In step with the DoD strategy, GLWACH’s first vaccine recipient was Serena Detlie.

Detlie, from nearby Camdenton, Missouri, has been a registered nurse for more than 25 years and has worked in GLWACH’s emergency department for eight years. She is also a survivor of pulmonary colloid adenocarcinoma, a rare form of lung cancer that left her upper left lobe significantly scarred and minimally functional.

She said due to her health issues she transferred to the relatively lower-stress post-anesthesia care unit a year ago but requested to return to the ED in March “because that is where the need is greatest.”

“Our hospital, like hospitals all across the country — across the world — was hit by COVID-19,” she said. “My co-workers were stretched to the limit; the number of critical patients was rising. Nursing is a calling. Our job is to alleviate suffering and help people. The best way I could do that was to go back to the ED.”

Getting the vaccine is important, Detlie said, because she’s seen what the virus can do to people of all ages.

“Symptom severity varies, but the bad cases are really bad,” she said. “Every breath is a battle. Life is short — nothing is guaranteed — but I want to do everything I can to tip the scales in my favor; in favor of all my friends, family and patients. That includes educating patients, correcting misinformation, wearing a mask, washing my hands and social distancing. And now that it is available, I will take the vaccine.”

According to Defense Health Agency officials, TRICARE beneficiaries enrolled at a DoD military treatment facility are eligible to receive the vaccine at a DoD MTF. TRICARE beneficiaries who receive care at DoD MTFs on a space-available basis can alternately receive the vaccine through the local civilian jurisdiction.

Every service member at Fort Leonard Wood is encouraged to take the vaccine, as it becomes available, “to protect their health, their families, this community and lower the public health risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic,” Pitney said.

“I know that many in our community are anxious to receive the vaccine; we are excited to start administering it,” he added. “Even as we work through our directed priorities of who we vaccinate, we need everyone to continue the practice of social distancing, wearing face masks and handwashing. That, along with vaccines, will turn the tide against COVID. Our team at GLWACH will continue to keep everyone informed of vaccine availability in our area.”

For more information on the DoD COVID-19 vaccination plan, go to www.health.mil/covidvaccine.

Serena Detlie, a nurse in General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital's emergency department, was the first Fort Leonard Wood recipient of the COVID-19 vaccine.