DoD preparing to roll out vaccine, prioritizing what service members will get shots first

Best listening experience is on Chrome, Firefox or Safari. Subscribe to Federal Drive’s daily audio interviews on Apple Podcasts or PodcastOne.

The military’s top official said the Defense Department plans on rolling out vaccines for COVID-19 within the next three weeks. In the meantime, the services are figuring out who in the military should get the shots first.

“Operation Warp Speed leader Gen. Gus Perna is one of the senior logisticians, a great human being, and he’s out there banging away,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said Wednesday at the Brookings Institution. “He’s going to make sure that we distribute the COVID vaccines nationwide here in a very short order.”

During a Senate Armed Services Readiness and Management Support Subcommittee hearing, Navy leaders explained who in the military will get the vaccine, and how it will be distributed to them.

“There are two related, but separate plans that are in development right now,” said Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday. “The Pfizer medicine will be distributed here in the United States at 10 different locations across the Defense Department. Every medical treatment facility in the military will receive that vaccine. We’ll also have three or four overseas locations that will receive the Moderna vaccine, which is allowed to be refrigerated for up to 30 days. So you have a little bit more flexibility.”

Both of the vaccines are RNA-based and require two shots. The Pfizer vaccine only has a shelf life of about 15 days out in the field.

The Pfizer vaccine is 95% effective and the Moderna vaccine is about 94% effective.

During the early days of the pandemic, the Navy created a prioritization for testing. Gilday said that will give the service an idea of how it will vaccinate its sailors once the shots are approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

“We were building the airplane as we were flying it; as we were trying to get testing capability out,” Gilday said. “This time we have a better sense of what that prioritization structure ought to look like. At the top are health care workers, and then emergency and safety personnel at our installations. Those people are likely to come in contact with people who are infected.”

After that comes strategic forces like cyber operators and troops on missile submarines. Then troops who will deploy in the next three months will get the shot.

“We have a good count of what those numbers are,” Gilday said. “If there’s anything we’re really good at it’s mass immunization in the U.S. military. We feel pretty confident that once we get the vaccine distributed, now that we have the prioritization well thought out, the vaccination will happen pretty quickly.”

Not many people in the military are likely to be top of the list for getting the vaccine in general, however.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted on vaccine priority on Tuesday.

The first shots will go to healthcare workers and people in long-term care facilities. The Centers for Disease Control estimates it will need about 48 million doses to vaccinate the 24 million people who fall into those groups.

The military as a whole is still seeing a spike in coronavirus cases. To date, more than 79,000 service members have been diagnosed with coronavirus. More than 30,000 actively have the disease. The military has seen about 10,000 cases in the past two weeks.

Military installations have been rapidly putting restrictions in place. Two weeks ago, 61% of bases were restrictions free. Now, only 48% do not have limits on travel or who can visit bases.

Related Stories

    (Victoria Evans)Soldiers in initial military training at Fort Jackson, S. C., line up to eat, May 11, 2020. (Victoria Evans)

    Military setting record COVID cases as nationwide numbers balloon

    Read more
    (AP Photo/Steve Helber)This Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2006 file photo shows members of Alpha Company of the 244th Quartermasters battalion march to the physical fitness track at the Ft. Lee Army base in Ft. Lee, Va. As much as President Donald Trump enjoys talking about winning and winners, the Confederate generals he vows will not have their names removed from U.S. military bases were not only on the losing side of rebellion against the United States, some weren't even considered good generals. Or even good men. The 10 generals include some who made costly battlefield blunders; others mistreated captured Union soldiers, some were slaveholders, and one was linked to the Ku Klux Klan after the war. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

    Many DoD bases expected to restrict travel ahead of holidays as COVID cases rise

    Read more

Comments

On DoD

WEDNESDAYS, 11 A.M. & 2 P.M.

Each week, Defense Reporter Jared Serbu speaks with the managers of the federal government's largest department. Subscribe on PodcastOne or Apple Podcasts.

Sign up for breaking news alerts