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Hit the Ground Running: NBAF Employees Help with FEMA-led Vaccination Effort

Contact: Stephanie Jacques
Friday, July 16, 2021

NBAF and FEMA employees at a vaccination clinic
Three NBAF employees were among a large group of volunteers for a COVID-19 vaccination clinic stationed at the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence, Rhode Island. Photo courtesy of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Manhattan, Kansas — Before the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, or NBAF, is even operational, employees are helping fight diseases.

Eight NBAF employees joined more than 1,400 other U.S. Department of Agriculture employees from across the nation to help with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s COVID-19 vaccination effort.

“While NBAF will largely focus on animal diseases, it could play a supporting role in future public health crises with respect to livestock research, diagnostics, countermeasure development, training and response,” NBAF Coordinator Ken Burton said. “These NBAF employees who have volunteered their time to help with vaccination efforts is a prime example of how NBAF employees are committed to creating a more resilient America.”

Those employees include Alicia Altman, animal health technician and compliance officer; Steve Behan and Ediane Silva, supervisory veterinary medical officers; Trena Chandler, purchasing agent; Erik Dedrickson, utility systems repairer/operator for the effluent decontamination systems; Tricia Delarosa, microbiologist supervisor; Luis Dossantos, laboratory worker; and Jeff Winkel, pipe fitter.

While some of the employees helped with operational tasks associated with the clinics, others with vaccination experience like NBAF’s highly-trained veterinarians administered shots.

“I’m a veterinarian, microbiologist and immunologist so I’ve been working with vaccines and infectious diseases for a long time,” Silva said. “I’m really passionate about it and I was happy to take part in this mission to decrease and control this pandemic with preventive measures.”

NBAF personnel were deployed in a variety of locations from New England to Oregon and even Oklahoma.

“I was deployed to Lawton, which is in rural Oklahoma near the Comanche Nation reservation,” Behan said. “We basically supplemented the nurses because that area was devastated. Nurses were working seven days a week for the past year dealing with COVID patients and now they were administering vaccinations.”

Behan said that people came from all over Oklahoma to find an opening for a vaccination and that most were grateful they could get an appointment. Across all deployment sites, deployed NBAF staff described wide ranges of people seeking a vaccination. Attendance on slow days may have been as little as 150 people whereas other days brought in more than 8,000 in some locations.

“Overall, everyone had a pretty positive attitude about being there—not just the employees but the people of New England getting their shots,” said Winkel, who was deployed to Providence, Rhode Island. “Everyone was happy and thankful that people would come from all over the country to help.”

Deployments ranged from two weeks to 30 days. Many of the employees mentioned that the true reward was developing relationships and the gratitude they received from people who were vaccinated.

“They were long days but it was rewarding,” Chandler said. “I had a lot of people say ‘thank you; we are so blessed that you are here’ because for a lot of them, this vaccination meant they could now go hug their grandkids. My favorite part was to see how grateful people were.”