After spending a record-long deployment last year stuck on their ships due to coronavirus restrictions, the crews of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft-carrier strike group are heading out again with the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in their arms.

Being able to vaccinate most of the strike group’s sailors is a relief after a frustrating year of outbreaks and restrictions at sea, according to Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis, who oversees Navy operations on the East Coast as head of 2nd Fleet.

“This is the first time in a good while that we can talk about COVID and good news in the same sentence, which is really, really exciting for all of us,” Lewis told reporters Friday.

Eisenhower and its escort ships recently returned to homeport in Norfolk, Virginia, from pre-deployment training in the Atlantic. Their crews will receive the vaccine in port before heading out again on deployment.

“We’re going to send them over the horizon here in a few days having received their first vaccination, and somewhere around 80 percent of the crew of the entire strike group has accepted the offer of getting a vaccination,” Lewis said. “Then they’re going to get a second vaccination four weeks later, and they’re going to be well on their way to full immunization in about six weeks’ time.”

That amounts to about 5,000 sailors in total aboard Eisenhower, the cruisers USS Monterey and USS Vella Gulf, and the destroyers USS Mahan, USS Mitscher, USS Laboon, and USS Thomas Hudner.

“We’ve Been Asking and Asking and Asking”

Navy aircraft carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower
A sailor stands watch in the tactical operations plot aboard USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, January 28, 2021. (U.S. Navy/MCS3 Brianna T. Thompson-Lee)

Eisenhower and its escorts set sail for training in mid-January 2020, but the onset of the pandemic forced their crews to remain aboard once its deployment started several weeks later. Eisenhower returned to Norfolk in early August after seven months at sea with no port calls.

Eisenhower’s second deployment in a year reflects the high demand for carriers around the world. That tempo is certain to strain the nearly 43-year-old ship, and the lingering threat of COVID-19 has added to the stress on its crew, who started quarantine on December 28.