HomeNewsArticle Display

Doc’s Medical Minute: Update on virus variant, Janssen vaccine, DEERs data

Airman smiling in a doctor's coat.

Medical Minute by U.S. Air Force Col. Ryan Mihata, 86th Medical Group commander, at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Regina Burbidge)

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany --

We have been together in this fight against COVID-19 for just over a year now.  A year ago this week, I gave Ramstein leadership the first of many medical briefings.  During that briefing, I reported just over 1,500 confirmed cases and three deaths in Germany.  This week, Germany exceeded 2.5 million cases and is approaching 72,000 deaths.

Today in the fight, we are watching the “UK variant” (variant B.1.1.7) closely as it is detected across Europe.  While overall it is not noted to increase the death rate, it does appear to be able to spread more easily than the original strain and does appear to impact younger patients more seriously than the original strain by making younger people sicker.  This reiterates the importance of good prevention measures: mask wear, handwashing, and physical distancing.   Rheinland-Pfalz has also enacted an ordinance that travelers coming from areas designated by the Robert Koch Institute as “Virus Variant Areas” must quarantine for 14-days with no test out possibility.

On the vaccine front, the most notable change is that the Food and Drug Administration has approved the Emergency Use Authorization for the Johnson and Johnson product, known as Janssen.  This is a single vaccine (versus two-shot) regimen.  The other characteristic is that this vaccine does not require the significant cold chain storage that is required by the Pfizer and Moderna products.  Unfortunately, the DoD has only been allocated a small portion of the initial Janssen production.  Due to the characteristics of this vaccine, I expect the initial allocations will be sent to locations without the cold chain storage capabilities to support the other vaccines.  Here at Ramstein, we will continue administering the Moderna product.

We are still in Tier 1B.  Note that there is a new modification to the DoD schema.  The levels are now called Tiers, not Phases in the new schema. Even though we are still in Tier 1B, we are capturing some essential personnel and high risk patients (Tier 1C).  See more information here: https://www.ramstein.af.mil/COVID-19-Vaccine-Information/

I encourage everyone to ensure their DEERS information is updated.  The DEERS data is the contact information the Ramstein clinic will use to contact you to assess your eligibility for the vaccine.  Due to the limited number of vaccines available, certain high risk patients are being contacted by automated system.  If your DEERS information is not updated, we do not have the right information to contact you.  Find directions here: https://go.usa.gov/xsVRq

Finally, the Red Cross volunteers are awesome.  We have had them as part of our team for the past several weeks.  We are now engaging volunteers at multiple locations in addition to the shot line. These locations include: Official Travel Antigen Testing, Dental and Main Clinic Screening/Single Point of Entry.  If you are interested in joining the volunteer group, I encourage you to contact the American Red Cross office on Ramstein.