On Wednesday, Pentagon officials announced plans to rapidly distribute some 44,000 doses of the new COVID vaccine to military and Defense Department personnel as soon as it’s been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
The Defense Department’s initial allotment of 44,000 doses of the vaccine, created by Pfizer and BioNTech, will be distributed across 16 locations, where prioritized troops and civilian personnel will receive it within the first 48 hours after approval. According to military officials, top priority will be given to healthcare workers and military and civilian personnel who run a high risk of exposure to the COVID-19 virus. Senior officials like Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller will also be among the first DoD personnel to receive the vaccine.
Other senior leaders will also be among the first to receive the vaccine, though not specifically because they’re at such high risk. According to Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Thomas McCaffery, leaders will receive the vaccine first in order to “underscore encouraging all eligible personnel to take it.”
Leaders included on that list are:
- Deputy Secretary David Norquist
- Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley
- Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. John Hyten
- Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Joint Chiefs Ramon Colon-Lopez
“What we’re looking at is the department leadership, and also the service leadership, combatant commanders, so we can get that message out to as large a population as possible,” said Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman.
The military will be working quickly to rapidly distribute millions of doses of the vaccine to personnel all around the world, but there are a number of logistical hurdles to overcome. The Pfizer vaccine will be the first to be distributed, but needs to be stored in temperatures as cold as -80F, limiting the facilities that can feasible store large amounts of the supply and complicating transportation matters.
The “Phase 1a” priority group that will get first dibs on the new vaccine includes healthcare providers, support workers, emergency services, and public safety personnel. However, the vaccine itself will not be mandatory at this time, due to the emergency nature of its anticipated FDA approval.
“This is not a fully licensed FDA vaccination, and it’s the department’s policy that it will be voluntary for everyone. So there’s no ‘ifs ands or buts’ about it. Doesn’t matter, voluntary for everyone,” Defense Health Agency Director Lt. Gen. Ronald Place said.
After all volunteers from Phase 1a have been vaccinated, the next group will be comprised of those who fill “critical national capabilities” — like personnel operating America’s nuclear weapons facilities and other essential, high-risk roles. After all volunteers from that group have been vaccinated, high-risk DoD beneficiaries will get the next priority, including military nursing home residents and retirees with underlying medical conditions that put them at higher risk of death if infected with the virus.
These are the locations the initial batches of the COVID vaccine will be distributed to military personnel:
- Madigan Army Medical Center, Washington
- U.S. Coast Guard Base Alameda and Naval Medical Center San Diego, including Camp Pendleton, California
- Tripler Army Medical Center, Hawaii
- Brooke Army Medical Center and Darnall Army Medical Center, Texas
- Naval Hospital Pensacola, including Keesler Air Force Base, and Naval Branch Health Clinic Jacksonville, Florida
- Womack Army Medical Center, North Carolina
- Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, including U.S. Coast Guard Base Portsmouth
- Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Maryland
- The Indiana National Guard
- The New York National Guard.