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Doc's Medical Minute: Update on vaccine progress, outlook

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, Ramstein --

Lots of changes on the COVID front in just the past couple of weeks.  While numbers in Germany overall are higher than my last report (136 cases per 100,000 people as of Apr. 12), the steep increase has seemingly started to level off.  The numbers in Kaiserslautern city and county are higher than in previous weeks, 108 per 100,000 in the city and 95 per 100,000 in the county.  On Ramstein, we’ve seen our active case numbers trend upwards, similar to the local community.  Please keep up your attention to precautions measures. 

The vaccine campaign continues across the world.  We can already see a difference in the UK, for example, where over 40% of its population have received at least one dose of the vaccine and case numbers have dropped significantly.  I continue to share your frustration over the lack of sufficient supply to open up widely to the general population here.  Since January, we have received and administered more than 7,000 doses of the vaccine in accordance with the DoD’s prioritization schema, more than any other base in USAFE, but we also have the largest population. We have started vaccinating some individuals in Tier 1C (high risk and essential personnel), but we have several thousand individuals who have not been offered the vaccine yet in that tier.

In accordance with Executive Branch and higher headquarters guidance, we will expand eligibility to all eligible individuals beginning Apr. 19.  However, we will still be limited by our supply of vaccines.  Each of the services is individually responsible for its own distribution and allocation of supply.  This is why some treatment facilities or installations are progressing at different rates than other locations.  Even within the Air Force, you will see differences based on the size of that installation’s population groups.  One thousand doses goes a lot further at a small installation than it does at Ramstein.  To give further perspective, if everyone at Ramstein accepted the vaccine, we would need more than 50,000 doses to fully immunize the population.  We will provide more information soon about how we will distribute vaccines to our Tier 2 healthy population.   

There is great reason to get the vaccine once it is available.  In addition to being important for preventing severe illness and death, Rheinland-Pfalz recently announced that fully vaccinated people who display no symptoms are exempted from COVID testing (for outdoor dining, etc.), are not required to quarantine if they are close contacts of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, and will not have restriction of movement when returning from a risk area.  The installation is working through this change in host nation policy.  More to follow on how installation policy may change as a result.  Vaccination will not change the need to maintain precautions such as wearing face coverings and physical distancing, as we know that vaccinated individuals can still carry and expose others to the virus.

Please stay safe and healthy.  Wear your face coverings, wash your hands and keep your distance!