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‘A lot of hope with every shot’: Maryland National Guard COVID-19 vaccine team on hand at Westminster Senior Center

Members of the Maryland National Guard's Mobile Vaccination Support Team support vaccination efforts Wednesday at the Westminster Senior and Community Center.

More than 140 Maryland National Guard members are assisting the state’s health department with COVID-19 vaccinations, and Carroll County had its first collaborative effort take place Wednesday at Westminster Senior Center.

Maj. Kurt Rauschenberg, director of public affairs for Maryland National Guard, and Capt. Ben Hughes, public affairs officer, stood inside the senior center while a handful of soldiers and airmen that formed a mobile support team helped administer vaccinations alongside Carroll County Health Department volunteers and staff for citizens aged 75 and older.

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Ed Singer, the county’s top-ranking health official, made an appearance to oversee the vaccination area, along with health department planner Maggie Kunz and community health educator Rachel Turner. Not long after that, Dr. Jeffrey Woolford entered the room.

Woolford, a recently retired Air Force fighter pilot and flight surgeon, hails from Westminster and is the state’s deputy senior Air National Guard medical officer. Woolford said the Maryland National Guard is also helping health departments in Baltimore County and Talbot County on the Eastern Shore. Getting Carroll on the list was important, Woolford said.

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Lt. Stephen Patterson, a registered nurse with the Maryland Air National Guard's 175th Wing, administers a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Richard Nicolaus of Westminster, a US Air Force veteran, at the Westminster Senior and Community Center Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021. Patterson was working with the Maryland National Guard's Mobile Vaccination Support Team.
Lt. Stephen Patterson, a registered nurse with the Maryland Air National Guard's 175th Wing, administers a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Richard Nicolaus of Westminster, a US Air Force veteran, at the Westminster Senior and Community Center Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021. Patterson was working with the Maryland National Guard's Mobile Vaccination Support Team. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

“It’s a heck of a privilege, especially with the National Guard,” said Woolford, who lives in Eldersburg. “We live for the opportunity to be able to come and help the community.”

Woolford said he has watched people become emotional as they go through the vaccination process, and for good reason.

“People cry, and it’s relief, and it’s stress. It’s remembering someone that passed away,” Woolford said. “I think sometimes we forget as we get caught in the machination of numbers, vaccines, ‘Get the mission done,’ that there’s a human element to this that I’m hoping people are capturing. It is a lot of hope with every shot.”

Singer said the county health department is trying to expand its capacity to vaccinate as many people as possible. Singer estimated 5,000 people per week in Carroll can get their COVID-19 vaccine without a need for external support or operating a mass vaccination clinic.

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Having National Guard presence boosts the effort, Singer said.

“This is our first 75-plus clinic that we’ve done,” he said. “People have been rolling through here, it’s been no problem. It’s great to have the support of the guard.”

Carroll being faced with uneven dosage amounts has been a challenge, Singer said. The health department received 100 doses the week of Dec. 27, and had as many as 1,500 two weeks later. Next week, Carroll is set to get 800 doses, Singer said.

He spent some time Wednesday morning helping with sign-ins for people who made appointments despite not having an email address or internet capabilities.

“I’d like to be able to run multiple sites at different places in the county, but I need enough vaccine to do that. Right now the supply is the limiting factor,” Singer said. “Getting the guard involved now and have them understand our operation, and kind of get this moving smoothly, it gives us a leg up as we move along to be able to expand that capacity. It’s tough with Maryland Responds, because you’re relying on volunteers. But with the guard I know they’re going to show up, I know they’re training to do the job.

“And they’re getting it done. I’m glad they’re here.”

Each mobile vaccination support team is composed of nine to 14 guard members, according to a recent with MNG news release, and a minimum of four who can administer the vaccines. The remainder will support patient flow, data entry, and other medical-related tasks.

The Maryland National Guard will continue to provide the support as long as Gov. Larry Hogan authorizes it to do so, according to the release.

Rauschenberg and Hughes said their mobile team will continue to support Westminster two days a week at the senior center, with the hopes of expanding to other sites within the county. The support team features medical professionals in civilian and military capacities, Rauschenberg said.

Registered Nurse Denise Connolly prepares a dose of the Modernal COVID-19 vaccine at the Westminster Senior and Community Center Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021.
Registered Nurse Denise Connolly prepares a dose of the Modernal COVID-19 vaccine at the Westminster Senior and Community Center Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

“We like to do our part, as the guard,” Hughes said. “And we’re all in this together in terms of trying to move us forward. Being able to use our training and our people to push across the finish line, we’re happy to be a part of that.”

The Carroll County Health Department remains in Phase 1B as it continues to wrap up vaccinations for people from Phase 1A. Being given a limited number of doses makes the process lengthy, but everyone involved seems to agree that gathering such as Wednesday’s are a collective step forward.

Said Rauschenberg: “It’s just another perfect example of how the National Guard comes out to communities and does what we do best here at home.”

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