Pathways: UICOMP Grad Leading COVID-19 Vaccine Effort at Fort Leonard Wood
Parker Thompson, MD, (UICOMP Class of 2017) contributed to fighting the global pandemic by leading the COVID-19 vaccination response at the U.S. Army’s Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. In December 2020, he was tapped by the Deputy Commander for Clinical Services at General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital to serve as the Officer In Charge (OIC) for the base’s COVID-19 Vaccine Mission.
His efforts concentrated on administering vaccine during the months of January and February in accordance with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and U.S. Department of Defense’s military guidelines. Following the prioritization protocol, from healthcare workers and first responders to active duty military and their family members to civilians and contractors, thousands of vaccines were administered.
When the mission ramped up in January, as many as 450 people per day were vaccinated on the sixth floor of the hospital. The base hosted a mass vaccination event in early February during which 10 vaccination lanes operated for a 12-hour day. In addition to a check-in/screening worker, each lane had a person designated to give the vaccine and another assigned as a “shot assistant” to handle the documentation, the longest part of the process, Thompson said. He was proud that the event was the first in the nation to offer vaccines to patients in Phase 2, the healthy, general population.
The effort relied on volunteers, both military and civilian. The highest ranking volunteer at the vaccination site, a nurse, livened up the setting by bringing music to play. The mass vaccination effort received praise for its efficiency, including feedback stating, “Very well organized. Almost like a Chick Fil A of vaccines.” Mindful of vaccine hesitancy, Thompson encouraged those who were vaccinated to tell others as part of the outreach effort.
“The opportunity to lead this charge was the highest privilege of my professional career,” Thompson says. Indeed, Thompson is early in his professional career, having completed his pediatric residency in 2020 at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Now, he is a pediatrician at the base hospital where the bulk of his service is outpatient clinic and mother-baby care with additional service as a hospitalist. The hospital sees about 30 babies born monthly, and around five pediatric admissions each month.
In addition, he covers ER, urgent care and is on-call for the outpatient clinic.
He vividly recalls the moment he knew pediatrics was the specialty he would pursue. “It was my fourth rotation during my junior year, and I was in outpatient at University Pediatrics with Dr. McLauchlan. I knew that first week that I wanted to be a pediatrician,” Thompson says.
“I love how different medicine is in pediatrics. I love the more optimistic and pro-active approach with the focus on preventative medicine.”
“We are with our patients and families through peaks and valleys, like ushering in new life with a newborn baby. But we are also with them through deep valleys, like when a baby dies or a child is diagnosed with cancer,” Thompson says. “It is a privilege to support them through the valleys.”
Natives of central Illinois, he and his wife, Alyssa, are the parents of Esther, 4; Streator, 2; and Eleanor, 3 months. He says being a father makes him a better pediatrician since he can relate to the experiences facing new parents.