As Maryland marks its greatest number of new COVID-19 infections in a 24-hour period, members of the National Guard are inoculating Frederick County residents with the best defense against the virus.
On Tuesday night, Maj. Tahir Chaudhery, a physician assistant, filled syringes with the COVID-19 vaccine that were quickly whisked away by medics. The line at the Emmitsburg Senior Center stretched out the door into the parking lot around 5 p.m. at the walk-in clinic.
Chaudhery methodically drew liquid from vials labeled in red, blue and purple for the three types of vaccines. With each draw, Chaudhery jotted down the lot number on a sticker and stuck each label to its corresponding syringe. The stickers would end up on each person’s vaccine card.
“Safety is paramount of our mission,” he said.
States across the U.S. have been calling on the National Guard to help with vaccinations.
The Maryland Vaccine Equity Task Force (VETF), led by Maryland National Guard Brig. Gen. Janeen Birckhead, is working with the state’s 24 local health departments to focus COVID-19 vaccination efforts on “underserved, vulnerable, and hard-to-reach populations to ensure the equitable delivery of vaccines,” Dennison wrote in an email.
The county health department has been working with the VETF/Maryland National Guard since late spring, Dennison said, and he views the National Guard’s work as essential. National Guard units have helped with vaccinations in Thurmont, Brunswick, Emmitsburg and other locations in the county, Dennison said.
“This just allows us to get out in the community a lot more effectively,” Dennison said. “They’ve been a great partner in this effort.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Maryland health officials reported 6,218 new COVID-19 cases, The Baltimore Sun reported. Individual cases for the county were unavailable. Frederick County’s COVID-19 dashboard showed 67 COVID-19 hospitalizations as of Monday, the most recent data available.
With rising cases in mind, Ja and Fred Merkel and their daughter Jessica came to Emmitsburg from Frederick to get their booster shots Tuesday. Fred Merkel said they’re planning a small holiday get-together with immediate family in light of the virus.
“I tend not to go out,” he said.
As an economist for the federal government, Fred said he’s been able to transition to working from home. His wife Ja, however, works in the restaurant industry. She said the vaccine gives her “peace of mind” while she works.
Emmitsburg resident Jon Pfefferkorn also came for an extra dose.
“I figure it’s time to get a booster,” he said. “Better to be safe than sorry.”
Working as an auto mechanic, Pfefferkorn said he hasn’t been as busy since people seem to be driving less.
For Pfc. and medic John Goldsborough, who recently joined the National Guard, his entire military career has been centered around getting shots in arms since he finished his Advanced Individual Training in March.
“This has pretty much been my full-time job since I got back,” he said.
As Goldsborough spoke of the work that goes into the vaccination clinics, seven other National Guard members bustled around the room from patient to patient.
“This is a very good team,” Goldsborough said. “We all pull our weight.”
Sgt. First Class David Smith, who led the team Tuesday, said serving the community is what they’re trained to do. Smith’s words quickly turned to action as he noticed a man at the clinic show signs of illness. Smith hustled over and checked the man’s pulse.
Capt. Jennifer Alston, a public affairs officer, watched as Smith and other members of the National Guard provided care.
“We’re in the community. We serve the community,” Alston said. “This is what we do.”