It’s been a long year for everyone, but doubly so for the men and women of the aircraft carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower, who are days away from commencing their second deployment in the past 12 months.
Before they head out, however, the Navy plans to vaccinate the sailors of the Ike and its strike group on the pier this weekend in Norfolk, offering a bit of good news to concerned crew members.
Eighty percent of sailors in the strike group, about 5,000 in all, have volunteered to get the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, with plans afoot to give them their second dose at a port during the deployment.
The Moderna vaccine is being used because it does not require the ultra-cold temperature storage of the Pfizer version.
Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis, U.S. 2nd Fleet commander, noted in a statement Friday that the group’s sailors “have had a lot asked of them in the COVID environment in this ‘double pump’ deployment.”
Getting the jab will hopefully ease the strain a bit, leaders said in a call with reporters Friday.
“This is the first time in a good while that we can talk about COVID and good news in the same sentence,” Lewis said. “We’re going to send them over the horizon there in a few days having received their first vaccination.”
“They’re going to be well on their way to full immunization in about six weeks’ time,” he added.
For any sailors who remain wary of getting the vaccine, Lewis urged them to follow the science and trust the medical experts.
“On a personal level, I could not wait to get the vaccination because I read everything that’s coming out from the experts, and the experts have proven themselves to know their business,” he said.
Getting the word to sailors that the vaccines are safe and effective is an all-hands effort, Lewis said.
“Everybody who has a voice with a credible source is trying to get out the word to dispel the myths,” he said.
While the second shot can sometimes provoke temporary discomfort in participants, the strike group will stagger that second jab to ensure that the ships and jets can still do their jobs.
Getting vaccinated is not just about a sailor’s safety, but helping to protect their shipmates as well, leaders noted.
Both the Moderna and Pfizer versions of the coronavirus vaccine are voluntary for sailors at the moment, since they have only been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration under an emergency-use authorization.
“We cannot make it mandatory yet, but I can tell you we’re probably going to make it mandatory as soon as we can, just like the flu vaccine,” Lewis said.
While Lewis and other leaders emphasized Friday that hand washing, distancing and other measures would remain in effect aboard the Ike even after vaccination, he noted that “we are driving toward what we would call a normal deployment,” that will seek to involve “quality of life” port visits along the way.
Navy deployments since March have tended to be longer than usual as commanders have sought to maximize the advantages of COVID-free crews, and they have also largely eschewed things like port calls to keep those crews virus free, making hard times that much harder for sailors.
“The forward commanders are very committed to doing this,” Lewis said, referring to future port visits. “There’s a dim light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s become brighter all the time.”
Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.