The vaccination facility, which is designed to administer 3,000 shots a day (though it hit 5,636 shots in a single day earlier this month), is under the control of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state of Florida. However, a staff of 139 active duty Airmen from 25 bases across 22 states make up the operational engine providing vaccinations from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day.
The Tampa facility, which began offering COVID-19 vaccinations March 3, is one of four, large-scale vaccination centers in the state and one of 171 centers nationwide supported by federal personnel. (There are 440 community vaccination centers in all nationwide that receive some mixture of personnel, supplies and funding from the federal government.)
“COVID vaccines are the cornerstone for the nation and for us as the Department of the Air Force to get past this crisis,” Roth said during the visit, calling the coronavirus pandemic “the existential crisis to the nation right now.”
“I’ve been a proselytizer as I’ve gone around to 13 bases the last couple of months, encouraging Airmen and Guardians to get vaccinated. Getting shots in arms is an important step in the right direction,” he said.
The same is true for the public and the nation as a whole.
With the number of COVID-19 cases spiking in some parts of the country and with new coronavirus variants becoming more widespread, the White House is pushing hard to vaccinate people as a principle defense against the disease.
In that respect, Roth said it makes sense for the Air Force to “bring to bear capabilities” to help in the effort. In addition to the 139 Airmen deployed to Tampa that includes a physician, pharmacy personnel, nurses and a wide range of other personnel from non-medical fields, more than 1,300 Airmen are serving at other mass vaccination centers nationwide.
“I thought it was important for me to see an example of the support we’re providing FEMA and others in the COVID effort. I enjoyed it immensely. I got a lot out of seeing the Airmen and speaking to them,” Roth said.
“I was pleased to see how effectively and efficiently the operation was being run and I was particularly taken with the individual Airmen and how enthusiastic they were about trying to help out,” he said.
“One of the reasons I leave the Pentagon is for opportunities like this is to visit Airmen and Guardians and see the great work they are doing. To get out and see Airmen and Guardians is always refreshing and I always come back very optimistic with the state of the force, the morale of the force and the talent we have out there.”
Along with its state and federal partners, the Air Force, and specifically Airmen operating under the 15th Air Force, have made a considerable contribution. To date, the personnel have given more than 570,000 vaccinations across the eight facilities where they are assigned.
Roth said he was impressed by how well the various government entities meshed to move people from the entrance through the eight tents that have stations for screening people, record keeping, providing information about the vaccines, then to later stations where the vaccines are administered and seats for the after-shot waiting period.
While the mix of participants may be unusual, the concept isn’t for Air and Space Forces personnel, Roth said.
“It really is a good example of the idea of ‘joint operations’ but in a different way. It’s very impressive,” he said.