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Hawaii News

Pearl sub crews get COVID-19 vaccine

The Navy last week gave the COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine to some Pearl Harbor fast-attack submarine crews — an indication of the priority given to keeping subsea sailors healthy aboard the warships that are critical to national security but notorious for their close quarters.

The vaccinations are among the first for ship crews in the Pacific revealed by the Navy.

Health care providers, first responders and command teams have so far been the main target of the limited doses of vaccine doled out by the Defense Department in Hawaii.

But sailors aboard the Los Angeles-class submarines USS Springfield and USS Jefferson City were among those getting the first of two Pfizer vaccinations at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam on Dec. 23, according to the U.S. Pacific Fleet submarine force.

Sonar Technician Submarine 1st Class Cameron Mallonee from Wasilla, Alaska, assigned to the Springfield, and Electronics Technician (Nuclear) 2nd Class Matthew Dines from Janesville, Wis., who is on the Jefferson City, received their inoculations nearly a week ahead of Adm. John Aquilino, the 4-star commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet.

“Submarine sailors are just some of the operational forces — which also include medical and first responders — to receive the vaccine. We’re just a piece of it,” said Chief Amanda Gray, a spokeswoman for the Pacific submarine force headquartered at Pearl Harbor.

A follow-up dose of the Pfizer vaccine is needed 21 days later. The Navy said its initial intent is to vaccinate units deploying within three to six months. Pearl Harbor has about 15 Los Angeles- and Virginia-class subs.

Testifying before a Senate subcommittee on Dec. 2, Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite said “both the Marine Corps and our Navy have done a phenomenal job in the aftermath of the lessons we learned from USS Teddy Roosevelt.”

The aircraft carrier was sidelined in Guam for nearly two months in the spring with a coronavirus outbreak. According to a JAMA Network research letter, of 4,085 USS Theodore Roosevelt sailors who disembarked, 736 had a COVID-19 diagnosis. Some 590 sailors were characterized as symptomatic. Another 146 were asymptomatic, six were hospitalized and one died.

Braithwaite said the Navy was applying some of the lessons learned from the aircraft carrier outbreak to the testing and rollout strategy for the vaccine.

In November, nearly a quarter of the 300 crew of the Pearl Harbor destroyer USS Michael Murphy was afflicted with coronavirus. The ship was mostly in port but also doing local operations.

On Dec. 16 the Navy issued vaccination guidance for the following groups listed in order of priority:

>> Health care and emergency service personnel.

>> Critical national capabilities, strategic and national mission forces, national leadership.

>> Personnel deploying outside the continental United States.

>> Other critical and essential support personnel. (A majority of service members are in this category).

>> High-risk beneficiaries.

>> Healthy population beneficiaries.

Operation Warp Speed, the U.S. government vaccination effort, said Wednesday that it had distributed more than 14 million doses of vaccine to over 10,800 locations around the U.S., with a total of 2 million doses administered in the last two weeks. Its goal is to produce and deliver 300 million doses of vaccine.

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