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Beloved Aberdeen Proving Ground security guard becomes first on the Army post to receive COVID-19 vaccine

APG Security Guard Officer Joseph Butler III, right, receives his first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. Butler, who is well-known for his greetings at the installation's security gate, was the first person on post to receive the vaccine.
APG Security Guard Officer Joseph Butler III, right, receives his first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. Butler, who is well-known for his greetings at the installation's security gate, was the first person on post to receive the vaccine. (Photo Courtesy of Ann Gonzalez, Public Affairs Specialist, Strategic Communications Directorate, U.S. Army Aberdeen Proving Ground)

Security Guard Officer Joseph Butler III, well-known among Aberdeen Proving Ground workers for his hearty greetings when they enter the gates, became the first employee of the Army installation Thursday to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

The installation broadcast Butler receiving his vaccine on social media, during which Col. Tim Druell, APG’s Garrison Commander, gave a brief update on the vaccine.

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“For the last 10 months, we’ve been steadfast in our approach as we fought the virus with face coverings, sanitization and physical distancing ... now, we have a new weapon to fight the virus,” Druell said.

Vaccines would first be administered, he said, to the post’s Directorate of Operations. That includes gate guards like Butler.

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“Officer Butler one of the many heroes that you see start our day off with a smile as your enter our installation gates,” Druell said. “He as well as his team will be the first to receive the vaccine at APG.”

An employee of APG since 2003, Butler volunteered to receive the vaccine, and was selected to be the first person on APG due to his positive attitude and his influence on the community and within his team, according to Amburr Reese, a spokesperson for the base.

Butler is well-known and loved among APG employees for the energy he brings to work each day.

“There is not a single person associated with Team APG who is not familiar with his spirited ‘Welcome to Team APG!’ greeting and infectious smile,” she said.

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“His positive attitude and ability to lift people’s spirits when entering the installation has a significant impact on those who live and work here. He is a dedicated team member who often goes out of his way to make himself available when needed. He also prides himself on leading by example, which is one of the reasons he was happy to volunteer to receive the COVID vaccine,” Reese said.

Prior to receiving the vaccine, Butler said he “trusts science” and encouraged everyone to get vaccinated. He was honored to be the first APG employee to receive the vaccine.

”I am excited and I am thinking of the 350,000 people who passed away [from COVID-19], they would love to have this opportunity,” Butler said. “Our country is depending on us to step up to the plate and get vaccinated. We have to step up to the plate and make a difference.”

Butler said he understands loss and the importance of have a support system around you. His co-workers served as that support system when his wife died from cancer in 2019.

”This is my family here,” he said. “After my wife died everybody gave me Bibles, cards and stuff like that, without that support system I probably wouldn’t have made it. So I understand, when someone loses a love one, it is serious.”

APG has received 800 doses of the Moderna vaccine for 400 employees, Reese said. The installation will follow the Headquarters Department of the Army priorities for administering the vaccine, which Reese said are similar to the state of Maryland, but do vary a little.

“At this time we continue to work through the strategic distribution plan for future doses,” she said.

The Army base is Harford County’s largest employer, with more than 21,000 military, civilian and contractor employees making up its workforce.

Dr. W. Thomas Frank, APG Chief of Preventative Medicine and Public Health Emergency Officer, answered questions about the vaccine during the social media broadcast; the most common being whether you can get COVID-19 from the inoculation.

“And the answer is no, you cannot,” Frank said. “All the [vaccine] contains is a recipe that helps yourselves manufacture a protein that’s found in the virus. You make antibodies from that protein and it protects you from viral infection and the symptoms of it.”

He also addressed the vaccine’s efficacy, which he said was about 80% after the first shot and goes up to 96% after a second dose is administered some weeks later. But he warned the vaccine wasn’t panacea.

“Can we get our shot and run out, rip our mask off and say ‘Hooray, it’s over!’ No, you can’t, because it takes time for the body to develop those protective antibodies, generally it takes about 14 days,” Frank said.

Pain and swelling around the injection site after the shot are normal, he said, and some people may have a fever, muscle aches or fatigue. Those side effects are more commonly reported after second shot, Frank said, and usually go away within 24 hours if they occur.

Rarely, severe allergic reactions were reported, Frank said, with the actual risk about 11 out of a million, and typically in people who have experienced allergic reactions to vaccines before.

“We can say, unequivocally, this vaccine is safe and effective,” Frank said.

Other questions, he said, will take time to get answers to, as researchers study the vaccine after it has been administered.

“By this time next year, many of the questions that we don’t quite know the answers to yet, we should have,” he said.

Druell noted that while the vaccine is an important step against COVID-19, people should remain conscious of taking the steps they have been to stay healthy.

“Until we get the stage where we can vaccinate everyone, please continue to be vigilant in all we do,” Druell said. “Wear your mask, maintain physical distancing and proper sanitization.”

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly described what falls under APG’s Directorate of Operations. It has been updated.

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