VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Virginia Beach-based Sailors are coming back home after a months-long, state-led, federally supported vaccination mission in Queens, New York.
Looking back on providing COVID-19 vaccinations to the people of New York, medical officer in charge Navy Capt. Eva Domotorffy said she felt "anything from kind of overwhelming to gratifying to emotionally exhausting."
Spending nearly 13 weeks away and administering more than 225,000 vaccines, local Sailors have made their mark in the fight against COVID-19.
Cdr. Trevor Ritland, the Community Vaccination Center's Department of Defense Site Commander, said, "From [the beginning of the mission in February] until now we have seen an 80% reduction in cases, an 80% reduction in hospitalizations and a 75% reduction in deaths."
Since February, Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit Two (MDSU2), which is headquartered at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story and also commanded by Cdr. Ritland, has worked alongside eight Navy Medical Commands at the Community Vaccination Center at York College.
MDSU2 is composed mainly of deep-sea divers, normally called upon for their diving, salvage and harbor clearance expertise. Cdr. Ritland's command was selected for this mission in New York because of their experience operating in an expeditionary environment.
Despite their training, Cdr. Ritland said the beginning posed a bit of a learning curve. "That first week was a little challenging, because like I said, we didn't really have a playbook to go off of."
Capt. Domotorffy, whose team is comprised of physicians, pharmacists, nurses and corpsmen, said, "[In the beginning it was tough to count] how many people would talk to us about the family members and friends and neighbors that they lost during the COVID-19 pandemic. They felt like this vaccine was the saving grace that had arrived."
Selected for their experience and need, those on the ground adapted quickly.
"50% of the population in the Queens borough are immigrants. They speak 138 different languages and so it really required a lot of creativity to make sure that we can make the experience pleasant for our patients but also provide the resources that they needed," Cdr. Ritland said. "We took it upon ourselves to create kind of a 'best practices' and 'lessons learned' and shared them with the other sites nationwide."
The nationwide sites that benefited included the Military Circle Mall Community Vaccination Center in Norfolk.
As the Sailors, divers and medical personnel close out the mission in New York they have a message for the folks at home.
Capt. Domotorffy said, "I want people to know that we worked really hard here and we're just very proud of our accomplishments."
The site was comprised of 139 uniformed service members – 91 medical personnel and 48 non-medical personnel to check in, guide and direct individuals receiving their vaccinations, and command and control the site.
Their mission comes to a close on May 19.