In less than 15 minutes, Pennsylvania National Guard Spc. Ryan Whispell jabs five people in the arm with a second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
He zips through the standard medical questions, occasionally stumbling when he asks which arm the patient prefers only to notice a rolled up sleeve.
He smiles with his eyes.
Whispell is one of about 50 Guard members working at the Lancaster County Community Vaccination Center. But while other reservists hail from across the region, Whispell lives here in Lancaster County.
“Part of the whole reason I did the Guard is I like the whole idea of being local,” said Whispell, 20.
The Guard deployment announcement to the mass vaccination site in the former Bon-Ton store at Park City Center came on April 13, the same day Gov. Tom Wolf announced the state expanded vaccine eligibility to all residents age 16 and older.
The Guard team primarily consists of medical specialists trained to administer injections.
More than 1,000 people work at the center in both clinical and nonclinical positions, according to center spokesman Brett Marcy.
“While some of these individuals may work just one or two days per week, others may work up to five or seven days a week — depending on their preference, availability and the center’s scheduling needs,” he said.
Now in his third year with the Guard, Whispell joined out of high school. The 2018 Lampeter-Strasburg High School graduate said he hopes to use the experience as a stepping stone to one day getting paid to work in the fire service.
He’s currently a volunteer firefighter with Lafayette Fire Company — as he has been since high school — where fellow volunteers affectionately call him, “Private Ryan.”
During his time at the mass vaccination site, Whispell’s seen a number of friends and even an ex-boss.
“It’s kind of funny because they never expect to see you in a setting like this,” Whispell said.
The Guard has been an integral part in the public health response to COVID-19 in Pennsylvania, vaccinating teachers and staff as well as providing much-needed support to nursing homes.
“We were kind of being the face for the family who couldn’t visit because of the quarantine,” Whispell said of his own missions to nursing homes.
As of April 13, Guard members had administered 250,000 vaccines throughout the state, Lt. Col. Angela King-Sweigart, a Pennsylvania National Guard spokeswoman, said in an email to LNP | LancasterOnline.
Roughly 300 service members are supporting five mass vaccine campaigns across the state, including sites in Philadelphia, Allegheny County and on Penn State’s University Park campus in Centre County.
The Guard’s vaccination mission in Lancaster County is expected to last until the site closes, which initially was anticipated at the end of June. On Tuesday, however, county Commissioner Craig Lehman said the center will operate until the beginning of June. Marcy said the center will stay open at least through early June, though no official decision has been made to close before the end of that month.
“For all of us here, it’s probably one of the best opportunities to give back,” Whispell said.
The center vaccinated its 150,000th patient Thursday.
Same-day walk-in appointments are available daily. For more information on the Vaccinate Lancaster Coalition, or to register and schedule a first dose vaccine call 717-588-1020 or visit VaccinateLancaster.org