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Pentagon to prioritize its health workers when it gets COVID-19 vaccine

By
Don Jacobson
Illinois National Guard member Hannah Gonder inspects a test swab at a COVID-19 testing site in East St. Louis on May 28, 2020. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI
Illinois National Guard member Hannah Gonder inspects a test swab at a COVID-19 testing site in East St. Louis on May 28, 2020. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

Dec. 9 (UPI) -- The Defense Department will prioritize its healthcare workers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine when the Pentagon gets its first share of doses, officials said Wednesday.

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Thomas McCaffery told reporters that residents and staff of military-run long-term care facilities, other essential department workers and "high-risk beneficiaries" will also be among the first to receive doses of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and partner BioNTech.

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The department said it will receive 44,000 doses, likely next week.

Pfizer rolled out its vaccine for the public in Britain on Tuesday.

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"We expect to shots in arms of [Defense Department] personnel with 24 to 48 hours [after approval]," McCaffery said.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Wednesday he expects the Food and Drug Administration to approve the Pfizer vaccine within the next few days.

Decisions for which of the Pentagon's 11 million armed services personnel will get the vaccine first are based on guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the department's COVID-19 assessments of "unique mission requirements," McCaffery said.

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A prioritization hierarchy will be followed until 60% of all department personnel are vaccinated, at which point full-scale, unrestricted distribution would be allowed, assuming vaccine manufacturers have ramped up production, he noted.

Sixteen sites have been selected for the first distributions, including 13 in the United States and three abroad. The sites overseas are Kadena Air Force Base in Japan; a base in Landstuhl, Germany; and Camp Humphreys near Seoul, South Korea, where U.S. Forces Korea apologized Wednesday for a party at the installation recently that flouted mask and distancing guidelines.

Officials said the second tier of recipients includes service members involved with "critical national capabilities," like the U.S. nuclear deterrent force and homeland defenses.

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The Defense Department and several other federal sectors are involved in the U.S. vaccine rollout. States and local governments will be involved in the decision-making process for distributing their doses when they get them.

The FDA is also likely to give emergency use authorization for the a coronavirus vaccine from Moderna when it considers the request on Dec. 17.

Both vaccines have proven in late-stage clinical trials to be about 95% effective.

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