As Sgt. Madison Dowdy finished administering a COVID-19 vaccine to a woman at the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s community vaccination center in Dallas, the woman broke down in tears, relieved.
“To me that was something very telling about what we’re doing here,” said Dowdy, a combat medic with the 1st Infantry Division. “For these people, it’s very serious. ... I actually got kind of choked up at that one.”
More than 230 soldiers from Fort Riley are helping with federal vaccination efforts, including Dowdy’s 63rd Armor Regiment, which deployed Feb. 19 to the site at the Cotton Bowl Stadium, and an additional task force that left the following week for Miami.
As part of the U.S. Department of Defense’s support to FEMA, the soldiers are assisting with state-run, federally supported community vaccination centers to help get more people vaccinated against the coronavirus.
The soldiers on these teams include medical personnel and support staffers, and they are trained to administer vaccines, care for patients and offer other organizational support.
At the Dallas vaccination site, crowds are funneled through lanes in their cars, and Dowdy oversees one of these lanes, making sure it’s running smoothly, helping take down patient information and vaccinating when needed.
Sgt. Isaiah Cyr, an armor crewman with the 63rd Armor Regiment, also helps record patient information.
As a Fort Worth native, Cyr said he never expected to be assigned to his hometown area, but he appreciates being able to positively impact it.
“For me personally to help everybody down here — this is my city, this is where I’m from — and to get them vaccinated, I want to do my part,” Cyr said. “I know that everybody who’s working here to get everybody vaccinated is doing their part as well.”
Roughly 6,000 people are vaccinated at the Dallas site each day, and workers rotate between the Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. FEMA uses data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s social vulnerability index and census data to pinpoint sites that have been most affected by the pandemic.
With three FDA emergency-authorized vaccines on the market and a fourth likely on the horizon, Laverm “Bullett” Young, FEMA Region 6 response division director, said in an email that the site should be able to handle the president’s directive to states to make all adults eligible for the vaccine by May. As vaccine availability increases, Young said they could potentially expand vaccination hours, provide extra doses to other organizations and healthcare facilities or increase its mobile vaccine units.
“The soldiers deployed in support of vaccination efforts continue to impact the number of vaccinations administered significantly,” Young said. “By employing the military, the vaccination center could open an additional nine lanes, increasing vaccination capacity. … Texas residents are incredibly grateful to the men and women deployed here from Fort Riley, Kansas, to help in this historic effort to vaccinate all of America. These soldiers bring with them a skilled and dedicated posture. They know the importance of what they are doing and why they are doing it. We could not have asked for more from this team of professionals.”
With Friday marking one month since her team headed to Dallas and an indefinite stay ahead of them, Dowdy admitted the days can be long, but the work they are doing is more important.
“Despite all the long days, I’ll look back at this later on in my life (and) I’m not going to think about the long days or that I’m tired,” she said. “I’m going to think, ‘Hey, I was there in the middle of a global pandemic making a difference.”