The Defense Department is rapidly administering COVID-19 vaccines in a tiered priority process to service members, DOD contractors and civilians and their families who are stationed overseas and who wish to have them, said DOD health leaders.
Army Lt. Gen. Ronald J. Place, director, Defense Health Agency; Army Maj. Gen. Jill K. Faris, deputy surgeon general, Army National Guard; Navy Rear Adm. Gayle Shaffer, deputy surgeon general, U.S. Navy; and Air Force Maj. Gen. Robert I. Miller, director of medical operations, office of the surgeon general, U.S. Air Force, spoke recently at a Pentagon media update.
Place said deployed personnel are being prioritized because of limited availability to receive vaccinations from local health care providers. Of all doses the department has received, 14% are set aside for overseas locations.
“That’s significant because the OCONUS population is 7% of our eligible population,” he said, referring to personnel who are outside the continental U.S.
“That said if you’re a service member stationed overseas, or a family member likewise stationed overseas and you haven’t received a vaccine, and you don’t know when you’ll be able to, these numbers mean nothing. And it’s understandably frustrating,” Place said.
Place said that part of the reason for not getting shots in arms as quickly as the department would have liked, is because of the loss of about 15 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson dosages. Those doses were reportedly contaminated at a Baltimore factory about a week ago and are therefore unusable.
Johnson & Johnson, along with Moderna vaccines, are shipped overseas in large quantities because they don’t have the more stringent refrigeration requirements of Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech, he said. Dosages of Pfizer are nonetheless slated to be delivered overseas because it has been authorized emergency use for children ages 16 and 17.
Based on current projections of vaccine supplies and health care providers who administer them, the department projects that by the middle of May, all deployed personnel who want them will have had at least the initial vaccination dosage.
Place said that although those deployed are being prioritized, the department is also focused on personnel in the U.S., and that by April 19, all U.S. jurisdictions will be offering vaccinations to everyone. In fact, about 40% of department vaccinations sites have already provided at least some vaccinations in the final tier, meaning younger, healthier people, he said.
April 19 is significant because it is the date that President Joe Biden said COVID-19 vaccine eligibility will be open to all adults.
“We continue to see many individuals who were taking a wait-and-see approach now coming in for the vaccine,” Place said.
Faris, Shaffer and Miller agreed with Place about a lower vaccination hesitancy in each of the services. They attributed the turnaround in part to a successful education campaign to address any concerns.
With regard to partially or fully reopening installation facilities like gyms, Faris, Shaffer and Miller said the decision is made by installation commanders, in accordance with the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance and advice from their medical officers.