COVID vaccination ‘a time to lead and inspire’

Article / April 25, 2021 / Project number: 2021-04-26

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By Steven Fouchard, Army Public Affairs

The three elements of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) each have very different roles to play in their respective environments – land, air, and sea. When it comes to COVID-19, however, the mission is the same: broad vaccination as soon as possible.

As the largest element of the CAF, the Canadian Army (CA), bears a large portion of the responsibility. Thanks to a newly-confirmed vaccine delivery timeline, the CAF will receive additional vaccine doses in the coming weeks to administer to eligible members in the highest priority groups.

It is expected that members in all priority groups will be offered the vaccine sometime between April and August 2021.

COVID-19 has had a major impact on the CA’s operational readiness. While there have been approximately 1100 cases – only about one per cent of CAF personnel – and thankfully no fatalities, the knock-on effects are considerable: for every case, approximately 12 other people must be quarantined.

The CA’s vaccination planning is led by a team under the responsibility of Brigadier-General Joshua Major, Chief of Staff Operations. His advice to other senior leaders is simple: lead by example.

“As history has demonstrated time and again, leaders inspire others not just by their words, but by their actions, to achieve great things,” said BGen Major. “My message to all leaders, formal and informal, is simple: this is a time to lead and inspire. So talk with your soldiers, answer their questions, and then show leadership by getting vaccinated. This will allow us to start rebuilding our readiness.” 

“If you can’t answer a question,” BGen Major added, “direct them to someone who can.”

The CA Sergeant Major, Chief Warrant Officer Stuart Hartnell, echoed this sentiment, noting broad vaccination is essential for the Army to continue training and preparing for operations.

“In order to maintain our readiness, the Canadian Army will not and cannot ever again shut down training as we did early last year,” he said. “We will continue to train regardless of where this virus takes us. No matter how disciplined we are, we will on occasion still be required to train in close proximity to one another. To execute that required training as safely as possible we need to adhere to our personal health measures and we need the protection of mass vaccinations.”

More than 400 million people have been vaccinated worldwide thus far. Colonel David Coker, the CA’s Medical Advisor, has noted that serious side effects, such as severe allergic reactions or blood clots, have been seen in just two or three people per million who have been vaccinated.

Approximately 15000 CAF Members have received their first dose. While minor side effects are common, and are part of the body’s immune system becoming active, less than 0.5 per cent have experienced adverse side effects needing any medical attention.

“Not once in my military career have I ever had cause to question the validity of any vaccine that was required to protect me in the completion of my duties,” said CWO Hartnell. “Health Canada and our CAF medical experts take their jobs very seriously and they work diligently to keep us in the fight. I trust them with both my health and my very life.”

Moderna, the vaccine allocated to CAF members by the Public Health Agency of Canada, has been shown to be 94 per cent effective. It is a messenger RNA (mRNA) type vaccine, meaning it does not contain a live or inactivated form of the virus. Instead, it genetically “instructs” the immune system to create spike proteins that are part of the virus. This gives the body an ability to produce antibodies and immune cells and primes the body to mount a defensive immune response if it encounters the actual virus in the future.

CAF immunizations are being prioritized much like those in the general population. The first group to receive them are frontline healthcare workers and those supporting them, as well as others who are at high risk or likely to transmit the virus to high risk groups.

This includes, for instance, those clinicians who support Long Term Care Facilities, provide medical care to vulnerable residents of Indigenous communities, and members providing medical care to CAF members potentially infected with COVID-19.

Next are those supporting critical defence capabilities. This includes members deployed or employed in providing essential support to CAF critical functions and capabilities, such as Search and Rescue, readiness functions like the Direct Action Response Team (DART), Humanitarian Assistance, Non-Combatant Evacuation Operations, Cyber Assurance, and Casualty Support Management.

Also included are CAF personnel due to be posted outside of Canada and those contributing to NORAD, NATO, and UN Operations or working directly with other international partners and those providing direct support to different levels of government.

These will be followed by members engaged in force generation, training, and education activities. This includes personnel training to prepare for assigned missions, and instructors, staff and students at the CAF’s Royal Military Colleges and recruit school.

After the priority groups outlined above have been offered the vaccine all remaining eligible members of the CAF will be vaccinated. 

“As with any other military operation, prioritization of effort allows us to deliver the desired effect at the right time and place,” BGen Major noted. “Prioritization allows the proper sequencing to be established, with some flexibility to adapt to local requirements, so that the people who need the vaccine first, get it first. Thanks to the hard work of so many people, when the vaccines arrive at various bases, we will be ready to launch and start getting them into people’s arms.” 

Army Reserve members on Class B contracts, meaning 180 or more days, are considered eligible and will receive their vaccinations through the CAF. Those on Class A or other contracts of less than 180 days as well as civilian employees, Canadian Rangers and Cadet Instructors Cadre, will be vaccinated through their respective provincial and territorial health care providers per standard vaccination practices.

Vaccination is the best way to reduce the symptoms and severity of COVID-19 and to protect yourself, your family, community, and workplace. Widespread vaccination will also help ease the burden on both the civilian and military health care systems.

Whether you have been vaccinated or not, it is important that public health measures (PHMs) such as masking, physical distancing, and hand washing continue. Public health restrictions will be relaxed over time as more people are vaccinated but everyone must stay vigilant in the meantime.

“Getting your vaccinations and keeping your vaccination book current is an individual’s responsibility,” said CWO Hartnell. “And it may be a requirement for certain missions and/or deployments. The more protected you as an individual are, the more protected we as a team are.”

“As vaccination efforts ramp up, so does the spread of variants of concern,” BGen Major added. “We must not take our foot off the gas as we maintain our PHMs during the conduct of all our activities. I would again remind everyone of the importance of this vaccine and how it should be considered an integral part of your personal protective equipment - as much as your helmet, frag vest or ballistic glasses. We will not be less busy in the future, so we must do everything we can to ensure our readiness and ability to continue to deliver the incredible work done by all our members day after day.”

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