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PHILIPPINE SEA - More than 14,000 personnel throughout the Navy‘s U.S. 7th Fleet are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Medical personnel began administering the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccination to forward-deployed service members Jan. 5, as part of a fleet-wide effort to protect the force.
"We have been partnering with Fleet Activities Yokosuka, Navy Forces Japan, and 7th Fleet since day one," said Capt. Joseph F. Penta, U.S. Naval Hospital Yokosuka COVID-19 vaccine coordinator. "It has been a team effort and our part has been receiving and giving the vaccine efficiently in a setting with all the necessary safety precautions."
Penta said the vaccine is a vital tool to protect against COVID-19, and a step toward getting back to life as it used to be before the pandemic.
"We are in a pandemic and our principle weapon for ending this and saving lives is the vaccine. We owe it to ourselves, our family and country to make every effort to stop the pandemic and if we succeed we not only save lives, but we help meet the mission of maintaining the world‘s strongest Navy," said Penta.
The process of vaccinating 14,000 personnel was a collaborative effort between leadership, medical personnel, operational commands, and logistics organizations.
"It is an honor to immunize our fleet, alongside our local Navy Medical Treatment Facilities, so we are medically fit and ready to continue our operations in the area," said Fleet Surgeon Capt. Christine Sears, assigned to U.S. 7th Fleet. "When our Sailors are immunized, they can continue to focus their full attention on our missions and exercises."
In addition to vaccinating active duty personnel, the 7th Fleet vaccination program also included the Navy‘s critical logistics and resupply organizations.
"I am extremely proud of all the Military Sealift Command Far East personnel, including our civil service and contract mariners, who stepped up to be vaccinated," Capt. Samuel F. de Castro, Military Sealift Command Far East Commodore. "They understand this is an important readiness issue and just one way we contribute to mission accomplishment."
In accordance with the Emergency Use Authorization, receiving the vaccine is voluntary. Sailors had questions, and 7th Fleet commands ensured they had the resources to understand what the vaccine was and why it‘s important to receive it.
"Given how new the vaccine was, it required a pretty massive educational undertaking to make sure the crew understood how the vaccine works, how it‘s regulated, why it‘s good to take the vaccine, and how it‘s going to help us defeat COVID-19," said Capt. Fred Goldhammer, commanding officer of USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76).
Some Sailors chose to receive the vaccine because of the protection it offers. Some took it because they personally witnessed the impact of COVID.
"I‘ve had people back home pass away because of COVID-19. Some family members have gotten it, and they‘ve gone through some issues because of it," said Aviation Boatswain‘s Mate (Fuels) Airman Matthew Rolen, assigned to Reagan. "I might be young and healthy, but I might spread it to my grandparents or my uncle, and that‘s on me. I recommend everyone get it."
Leaders throughout 7th Fleet expressed appreciation for the dedication and perseverance Sailors have displayed in facing the challenges of continuing operations with a COVID environment.
"We could not ask for a more tangible and positive commitment to health and mission readiness from our Sailors," said Capt. Chase Sargeant, commander, Theater Surface Warfare 7th Fleet. "Immunization is seen as the best opportunity to reduce health risk for themselves and their families."
While the future of COVID-19 may be uncertain, vaccinating the fleet helps personnel stay mission-ready.
As the U.S. Navy‘s largest forward-deployed fleet, 7th Fleet employs 50-70 ships and submarines across the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans. U.S. 7th Fleet routinely operates and interacts with 35 maritime nations while conducting missions to preserve and protect a free and open Indo-Pacific.
Update (April 9): A correction has been made to this story that listed a percentage of vaccinated Sailors within the fleet, this data was inaccurate. The story is updated to accurately reflect the most current data for vaccinations in U.S. 7th Fleet.