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By Maj. Holli Nelson
West Virginia National Guard Public Affairs
Members of the West Virginia National Guard and the West Virginia Joint Interagency Task Force for COVID-19 Vaccines shared best practices and lessons learned for COVID-19 vaccine distribution with the Peru during a virtual workshop held March 2, 2021.
More than 40 high ranking government and military officials from Peru, including Mrs. Violeta Bermudez, Prime Minister of Peru, Dr. Óscar Ugarte, Minister of Health, Mr. Percy Luis Minaya, Vice Minister of Public Health, and Lt. Gen. Juan Cevallos, Peruvian Army Health Directorate Commanding General attended the workshop, hosted by Mr. Denison “Denny” Offutt, Chargé d’ Affaires for the U.S. Embassy Lima.
West Virginia has been recognized as a national and world leader in COVID-19 vaccine distribution since vaccines were made available in the United States in December. Building on the established relationship between West Virginia and Peru through the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program, it was a natural pathway forward for Peru as they sought out assistance in overcoming obstacles and challenges facing their nation as they begin vaccinating their population.
Chargé d’Affaires Offutt opened the workshop stating, “Here we are, two countries working together to overcome the pandemic. I want to thank the West Virginia’s Joint Interagency Task Force for being present. West Virginia has one of the most successful vaccination campaigns. Being raised in West Virginia, I feel very proud. Thanks to the Task Force for sharing their challenges and lessons learned, because the pandemic does not respect borders. Peru, we continue to support you in your vaccination process.”
The purpose of the workshop was to strengthen the vaccination campaign against COVID-19 and share experiences in the framework of the emergency caused by the pandemic. Topics directly discussed included the organization of West Virginia’s Joint Interagency Task Force; planning considerations for vaccination in various populations including the elderly, displaced, homebound and indigenous peoples; cold chain storage and logistics operations; and best practices for vaccination communication plans and registration processes.
Representing West Virginia during the workshop were Brig. Gen. William “Bill” Crane, WVNG, Adjutant General; Command Sgt. Maj. Dusty Jones, WVNG Senior Enlisted Leader; Lt. Col. Walter Hatfield, Director of Joint Operations; Lt. Col. William Persinger, COVID-19 JIATF Logistics; Maj. Holli Nelson, Strategic Communications Director, Capt. Joseph Reppert, State Partnership Program Coordinator, Chief Master Sgt. Jason Lopez, COVID-19 JIATF Administration, and Dr. Melody Wilkinson, COVID-19 JIATF Medical Representative.
Peru’s Minister of Health Dr. Óscar Ugarte showed interest in West Virginia’s communications methods for the COVID-19 vaccine, which has used an interagency and researched-based approach through academia, and he highlighted the role that vaccines have played in history for the Peruvian people. Dr. Ugarte underscored that the vaccination process has shown the operational strength and service-driven logistics and expertise of both the armed forces in West Virginia and in Peru.
“As we approach the nearly one year anniversary of the start of this pandemic and reflect upon the devastating effect it has had on both our nations, it is only fitting that we are able to see the light at the end of the tunnel through the collaboration that took place during this workshop,” stated Crane. “We know that collectively, our actions and best practices may ultimately help save lives in Peru. The West Virginia National Guard has been a cornerstone to the success we have had in West Virginia in our vaccination efforts, and it’s my hope that our Peruvian partners can use the knowledge shared through this workshop to build a similarly successful vaccination program for the people of Peru.”
He continued, “We remain committed to assisting our Peruvian counterparts as they move forward and are especially grateful for their continued partnership and the assistance of the U.S. Embassy staff in Lima for putting together this workshop.”
West Virginia’s JIATF was established on November 30, 2020, in preparation for the arrival of vaccines that received Federal Drug Administration authorization for emergency use and includes a separate task force of more than 550 National Guard service members. The JIATF for COVID-19 Vaccines includes interagency representatives from across the State of West Virginia such as the healthcare, hospital, local health, and primary care associations, the board of pharmacy, WVNG, FEMA, and more.
The Peruvian participants noted that West Virginia’s experts identified levels of confidence in the vaccine and the vaccination process. This has been accomplished with prepared campaigns adapted for the community, empowering local authorities to generate confidence among the population and highlighting the net benefit of choosing to be vaccinated: the reduction of deaths and hospitalization due to the vaccine, and the protection of the most vulnerable in society.
Since December, West Virginia has fully vaccinated nearly 200,000 individuals of the nearly 1.8 million residents in the state and more than 303,000 have had at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
“This engagement shows the true benefit of the SPP program, allowing life-saving knowledge and experiences to flow through open dialogue between Peru and West Virginia,” said Command Sgt. Maj. James “Dusty” Jones, Senior Enlisted Leader of the WVNG. “Our years of existing partnership has established levels of trust and respect that are invaluable in the middle of a crisis such as the COVID-19 world-wide pandemic. Being able to confidently reach out to our partners and friends to share operational strategies and methodologies, best practices, and to rely on each other’s dedication to our common missions, will save lives both here in West Virginia and in Peru and serves as a model for international cooperation we are extremely proud of.”
West Virginia and Peru have a more than 20-year history of partnership and collaboration through the SPP whose goal is to encourage people-to-people ties at the state level. Each year, Peru and West Virginia hold multiple engagements in support of defense security goals that leverages whole-of-society relationships and capabilities to facilitate broader interagency and corollary engagements spanning military, government, economic and social spheres.
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