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DOD Officials Announce Distribution Plan for Initial COVID-19 Vaccine

Image of Mr. McCaffery speaking at a podium at the Pentagon. Thomas McCaffery, the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, briefs reporters at the Pentagon on the department’s phase, standardized and coordinated strategy for distributing and administrating COVID-19 vaccines, Dec 9, 2020. (DOD photo by Air Force Staff Sgt. Brittany Chase.)

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Regarding the initial COVID-19 vaccination rollout, Defense Department officials announced a phased and coordinated strategic plan for distributing and administering the initial COVID-19 vaccines.

Chief Pentagon spokesman, Jonathan Rath Hoffman; Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Thomas McCaffery; and, Army Lt. Gen. Ronald J. Place, director, Defense Health Agency, described the plan at a press briefing in the Pentagon today.

"In the coming days we expect the department to receive its first allotment of the vaccine," McCaffery said, noting that DOD is expected to receive around 44,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine in the initial phase, as early as next week, for immediate use.

An additional 44,000 doses would then be required for the follow-up dose in the two-shot series. 

Per the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention guidance, DOD will administer the first batch to health care providers and then in DOD long-term care facilities, to high-risk populations, those in critical national capability positions and finally, healthy populations, McCaffery said. 

That first batch of vaccines will be distributed to 16 locations, including three overseas. That delivery McCaffery termed a "control pilot."

The 16 sites were selected based on a sizable DOD population of high priority personnel, cold storage capability and sufficient medical personnel to administer the vaccines and monitor recipients after receiving them, he said.

As soon as the Food and Drug Administration issues an emergency use authorization, or EUA, the DOD's allocation will be pre-positioned at those 16 sites. After issuance of the EUA, the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, or ACIP, will meet to review the EUA, The ACIP will then vote to recommend a vaccine, how it should be disseminated and who should receive it first, and then the order of the follow-on recipients.

"We expect to have shots in arms of DOD personnel within 20 to 48 hours from the time the ACIP issues its final recommendation," McCaffery added.

As lessons from the control pilot are learned, and more vaccines are made available over time, additional locations will be added, and additional personnel, besides health care providers, will be added, he said. Eventually, all department personnel will be eligible to be vaccinated: active and selective reserve components, including the National Guard, family members, retirees, DOD civilians and select DOD contractors.

"Future allocations of the COVID-19 vaccine will focus on vaccinating priority populations quickly and safely, while simultaneously refining the intricate planning for the delivery of larger volumes of vaccine in future waves," McCaffery said.

The department will prioritize DOD personnel to receive the vaccine based on the CDC guidance and on the department's COVID Task Force assessment of unique mission requirements, he said.

"The department's priorities are protecting our service members, our civilian employees and families and safeguarding our national security capabilities in supporting the whole of government response to the COVID-19 pandemic," said McCaffery. 

The department's plan to distribute the vaccine DOD-wide was developed in collaboration with Operation Warp Speed and CDC guidance, he said.

Place encouraged DOD personnel to take the vaccine when it becomes available, because as for now, it is voluntary.

"While we await final approval from the FDA, the preliminary data on the safety and effectiveness of the two vaccine candidates is highly encouraging and we're recommending that everyone take the vaccine when it becomes available to protect yourselves, your families, your shipmates, your wingman your battle buddies and your communities," Place said. 

The other vaccine he spoke of is made by Moderna and is expected to be made available to the department in the near future.

"As with most vaccines, some people may experience small adverse effects such as arm soreness, fatigue, even a fever," Place said. "The department will be fully transparent about any adverse effects that are reported and will share this information with the CDC."

Hoffman added his agreement with Place: "Our goal is to be transparent with the force about what is happening, and to encourage our personnel to use the vaccine."

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