When Virgin Islanders join the National Guard they know they will be asked to serve their community in many ways. On the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, many served in a new way by getting vaccinated.
With assistance from the V.I. Health Department, service members received their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine at community vaccination centers on St. Thomas and St. Croix, according to a news release.
“As guardians, we pride ourselves of being a ready, relevant and responsive force,” said Maj. Gen. Kodjo Knox-Limbacker, adjutant general of the V.I. National Guard. “It is essential that we, as defenders of our community, take all available steps to protect ourselves and avoid spreading COVID-19 to our loved ones, co-workers, and members of the public. The [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and [V.I. Health Department] have found that the best way to do so is to get vaccinated.”
The delta variant, which has been blamed for a recent surge in COVID cases across the nation and in the Virgin Islands has “significantly increased” risk to guardsmen and “put a strain on our local hospitals,” according to the release.
On Aug. 24, the Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin mandated vaccination for all armed forces members, including members of the National Guard.
“To defend this nation, we need a healthy and ready force,” Austin said in the memo. “After careful consultation with medical experts and military leadership, and with the support of the president, I have determined that mandatory vaccination against coronavirus disease ... is necessary to protect the force and defend the American people.”
According to the Pentagon, there are more than 1.3 million troops on active duty and close to 800,000 in the Guard and Reserve. And, as of Aug. 18, more than 1 million active duty Guard and Reserve service members were fully vaccinated and nearly 245,000 more had received at least one shot.
“Since the variant entered the territory in July 2021, its effects added more constraints to our small Virgin Islands community and workforce,” said Col. Jean Moving-Collins, deputy state surgeon for the V.I. National Guard. “Last August, we had 10 COVID positives, the highest since the start of the pandemic in March 2020. In total, over the past year, we’ve had 64 positive cases.”
Territorywide, there have been nearly 6,300 positive COVID-test results, according to the Health Department.
Service members are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after completing the second dose of a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine or two weeks after receiving a single dose of a one-dose vaccine. Those with previous COVID-19 infections are not considered fully vaccinated.
While Defense Department guidelines call for all service members to be vaccinated, V.I. Guard is considering requests for medical and religious exemptions, according to the news release.
— Contact Suzanne Carlson at 340-714-9122 or email email@example.com.