COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Ohio National Guard has been tapped to help prepare the state for the arrival and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine.
About two dozen Guard members have been working closely with the Ohio Department of Health at the state's Receive, Store, and Stage warehouse practicing transferring empty glass vials into small boxes and working out logistics plans to receive and repackage the vaccine for distribution. With time of the essence, it is crucial that the vials be kept extremely cold.
"We've been conducting daily drills for several weeks with our civilian partners to safely and effectively handle the vaccine that will be processed by ODH at the RSS warehouse," said Ohio Air National Guard Chief Master Sgt. Timothy Merle of the 121st Air Refueling Wing in Columbus and the noncommissioned officer in charge of the RSS warehouse mission. "We have to maintain the vaccine at a certain temperature, so time is of the essence."
Once shipped from the RSS warehouse, the vaccines must be removed from the ultracold storage and repackaged using dry ice in less than two minutes. A background in military skills has helped some, like Ohio Air National Guard Senior Master Sgt. Gregory Sprowls, an air transportation specialist with the 121st Air Refueling Wing, in drafting a logistics plan.
"A lot of what wee do in the military is based on a timeframe. You know when the plane is going to land and you only have a certain amount of time to unload it safely," Sprowls said. "We have taken that mindset and transferred it to a smaller scale to accomplish an orderly, repeatable process for handling the vaccine."
The Ohio National Guard has been supporting the RSS warehouse since March, at the request of Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine. The partnership has helped ensure that personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as COVID-19 test kits and other supplies reach health care professionals and other Ohioans serving on the front lines.