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Vaccination Effort Makes Waves on MD’s Eastern Shore

By Sgt. 1st Class Thaddeus Harrington, Maryland Public Affairs Office

With the assistance of the Maryland National Guard, the fifth mass vaccination site in the state at the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center in Salisbury, opened on March 18, 2021, to administer COVID-19 vaccinations to residents. 

This site is unique among the others in Maryland, as it is a hybrid, offering both drive-thru for those with accessibility needs and an indoor walk-in service. 

On the second day open, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan visited the site. The opening was considered a soft opening, with a vaccination capacity goal of around 500 people a day initially, with plans to be over 2,500 a day by April 1. At maximum capacity, this site would be able to vaccinate around 6,000 a day.

“We have an exceptionally collaborative team at this location and everyone is totally mission focused,” said Mark O’Neill, site director and former lieutenant commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve Medical Service Corps. “We’re all working together. It’s a ‘what can I do to help you, how can I be helpful?’ culture here and that has made all the difference.”

Nearly 50 Soldiers from the 115th Military Police Battalion plus a MDNG Mobile Vaccination Support Team, are helping the vaccination efforts at the site.

The Soldiers at this site are coordinating the flow of traffic through the three-tent drive-thru setup outside and are the first faces residents see when walking inside to get vaccinated. The MVST is administering the vaccine as well providing medical, administrative, and logistics support to the site. 

Most of these Soldiers live in Western Maryland and many have supported the inauguration mission in Washington D.C.

Although not the same kind of work in D.C., U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Camille Caston, a Fredrick native and a civilian counselor for adults with mental illnesses, is on her first COVID-19 vaccination support mission.

“I attribute that [collaborative spirit] to the experiences that they’ve had at previous locations,” said O’Neill. “People are coming in, well-trained and with a tremendous willingness to do what it takes to put this [site] together, to be helpful, find ways to win, find ways to solve problems, creatively and innovatively.”

Caston, who’s planning a future as a police officer, mentioned that she wanted to become a cop since high school. “I just love the energy of [police officers work], the fast pace, and helping people,” she added.

In addition to the mass vaccination sites, mobile vaccine buses were deployed to help ensure all Marylanders have access to the vaccine. Three vehicles belonging to the University of Maryland Medical Center were repaired and reconditioned for service in the fight against COVID-19. Army mechanics at the Dundalk Readiness Center’s Field Maintenance Shop worked to get these vehicles rolling again. 

Two of the three vehicles were used for the 1st time on March 19, 2021, at the Mills Memorial Baptist Temple in Salisbury and the Garland Hayward Youth Center in Princess Anne. The mobile locations each were prepared to have 100 registered residents scheduled to receive a vaccine, with 200 per day being the maximum capacity. Mobile vaccine buses can be set up as a drive thru or as a walk in configuration, returning to the same location for residents to receive the second dose.  

“I get to try to hit every county in Maryland, especially the rural and hard to reach places. We’re traveling around to all of them [counties] with these [vehicles] and trying to get people shots who otherwise would have difficulties getting a shot,” said U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Mathew Galvin, a signals intelligence analyst with the Special Operations Detachment-OTAN, activated to support the COVID-19 mission. 

The team uses portable technology to verify residents’ info in the central database so that the state’s reporting numbers are accurate and to eliminate duplicate shots at different sites or local hospitals. The technology also notifies residents the date for 2nd vaccine dose 28 days later via text, email, and phone call. 

All different parts of the Maryland Military Department, from the Maryland Army and Air National Guard, Maryland Defense Force, and the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, are engaged to assist the state in defeating COVID-19 in Maryland. That support looks different throughout the four agencies, yet is in service of the same cause.

Capt. (MD) William Glass is a chaplain in the MDDF, stationed at the 70th RTI in Edgewood, and is a resident of Easton, Maryland. He is a first generation American, of Yugoslavian and Hungarian descent, and was assigned to support the mobile vaccine bus opening in Salisbury in any way needed. Glass, a pastor and third year member of the MDDF, was among the team helping to manage traffic.

“I love being able to serve the community I live in. I really do,” said Glass. “My dad was in the service. He got his citizenship papers while he was [serving] in Korea.”

Brig. Gen. Janeen L. Birckhead conducts a visit of the mobile vaccine bus site.

The vehicles and the people who support them play a part of the state’s strategy to break down barriers, to expand access, and to save lives in underserved, vulnerable, and hard-to-reach areas. The Vaccine Equity Task Force, headed by Brig. Gen. Janeen L. Birckhead, commander of the Maryland Army National Guard, partners with a wide range of public and private organizations who share the goal of halting the spread of COVID-19 throughout the state. 

Reverend Curtis A. Roberts, Sr., pastor of Mills Memorial Baptist Temple, the location of the mobile vaccine bus to service the community.

“We’re trying to reach out to the community to let them know that we’re here for them,” Reverend Curtis A. Roberts, Sr., pastor of Mills Memorial Baptist Temple. “It’s important that we are making sure the vaccine gets out, helping those who feel as though they’ve been left behind, or they don’t have an opportunity, we want to reach out to everyone to let them know how important they are. As a church, we want to try to help do our part in serving and making things better for [all] people.”