Colorado Gov. Jared Polis recently tapped the Colorado National Guard's director of the joint staff, U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Scott Sherman, to lead the state's vaccination taskforce. The Gazette recently spoke with Sherman regarding service members' involvement in the distribution of tens of thousands of doses across the state. (Editor's note: This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.)
The Gazette: Tell us about the Colorado National Guard's involvement in the state's vaccine distribution plan.
Sherman: "We have about 26 Guard members helping with what we're calling the vaccine distribution joint taskforce, which I'm leading. That's a combination of the Colorado departments of health, public safety and the Colorado National Guard. It's really a whole state government approach to getting the vaccine to all regions of our state.
"We have 20 service members helping with distribution to eight hubs that are serving our remote areas: our mountain areas and the eastern plains, and the western slope, of course. At the hubs they're helping break down or take out the doses from the ultra cold freezers and then using a combination of service members and medical couriers to get them to hospitals that are administering the vaccine.
"There are six service members, including myself, who are members of the vaccine distribution joint taskforce who are helping lead the effort, both in operations and logistics."
The Gazette: Are vaccines being transported in military vehicles?
Sherman: "If you were going down the road, it would look like another car. We're blending in for security."
The Gazette: Are Guard members who are health care workers aiding in the administration of the vaccine?
Sherman: Such individuals shouldn't be "taken away from our civilian community. I don't see us doing that. We are still doing testing support, still supporting [the state health department] by going into long-term care facilities and our prisons and jails to test inmates and staff, and our most vulnerable population in the long-term care facilities."
The Gazette: How complicated is this undertaking of distributing eventually millions of doses of vaccine throughout the state?
Sherman: "It's unprecedented. You're talking about a vaccine that's lifesaving for our population, and every dose is so critical. Our main focus is making sure the Pfizer [vaccine] immediately gets into ultra-cold freezers and as quickly and efficiently as possible gets to hospitals. Once [the vaccines] come out of ultra-cold storage and go into anything less than -80 degrees Celsius, that's when the five-day clock starts ticking."
The Gazette: How is the Guard balancing pandemic response with its usual work?
Sherman: "We're almost to 300 days since this pandemic started that our service members have been helping out, and 2021 is going to be more challenging for us. We have over 800 members of the Army National Guard that are deploying in 2021. We have challenges coming up in 2021 as we continue to support the state, supporting our federal mission as the primary combat reserve for the Army and the Air Force, and also making sure we maintain our ability to support our state and the citizens of Colorado."