ALTAMONT, N.Y. – More than three-dozen members of the New York National Guard's COVID-19 Task Force are assembling vaccination "pods" in an industrial park near Albany to support the state's effort to vaccinate New Yorkers.
The pods, which are trailers that can be delivered to vaccination sites, contain everything needed to distribute the vaccine – from portable walls for privacy to the personal protective equipment and medical and office equipment required to run a vaccination site.
The first sites using these pods began operating on Jan. 13 at state vaccination centers at the New York State Fair Expo Center outside Syracuse and the Westchester County Center in New York City's suburbs.
A third center, at the Javits Convention Center in Manhattan, which served as a COVID-19 alternative care facility in the spring, did not need a pod to function.
As of Jan. 13, the service members had built 28 pods. The goal is to keep building as many as possible as supplies are continuously delivered, leaders said.
"Those pods, along with the vaccine, can go out and act as a mini command center," said Sgt. James Thomas, a platoon sergeant from the 133rd Composite Supply Company based at Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn.
The mission to build the pods started immediately after Christmas, said Spc. Steven Aviles, assigned to the 145th Support Maintenance Company. The pods are trailers from the New York State Department of Emergency Services. Once they are received, they are packed full of the necessary equipment.
The Guardsmen have a setup of a completed pod for reference, along with a checklist of everything that needs to go into making them. As items are loaded and packed, they are marked off the checklist.
"Probably over 100 items go into these pods," said Thomas. "Pretty much any kind of supplies you would need to operate on the go."
Once items arrive at the warehouse, Guard members unload the trailers and organize them according to item type. They are then added to inventory so they can track how much of each item they have.
"There's a manifest that goes with every trailer," said Thomas. "So pretty much what we do is separate it and then pull out the items for the pods, stage them, and then once we get all of the items, we put them in the trailers."
"This is the only warehouse that's working with items to build out pods for the vaccine," said Aviles.
Aviles and Thomas said they have a good system of working with the different agencies on-site and building the pods.
The Guard members are working with several agencies including New York's Department of Emergency Management and the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services.
The mission is being carried out by troops such as Thomas and Aviles, who have been on active duty since March when the state of New York first activated the Guard to respond to the pandemic.
"There's a lot of entities involved with this mission," said Thomas. "It's pretty cool that you have different agencies coming together for a good cause and one mission and one goal."
The Soldiers explained that once they roll out, the pods will be transported by another state agency while the Guard members continue their COVID-19 jobs.
“It’s been pretty nonstop,” said Aviles.
"It feels good to pretty much give back, sacrifice and give back to the community," said Thomas. "Especially during a time like this, so it feels good to help in any way I can."