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DOD healthcare leaders give COVID-19 update, praise DHA personnel

Image of Picture of Director Army Lt. Gen. (Dr. Ronald Place providing a COVID-19 update at  the Pentagon. Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Dr. Terry Adirim (left) and Defense Health Agency Director Army Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Ronald Place provide a COVID-19 update to members of the press at the Pentagon, March 26. (Screenshot of press conference taken by MHS Communications)

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Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Dr. Terry Adirim and Defense Health Agency Director Army Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Ronald Place praised the job done by members of the military medical community in fighting COVID-19 during a recent briefing at the Pentagon.

The Department of Defense "is playing a key role in supporting the whole of government approach to defeating COVID-19, particularly in support of vaccinations of our service members and other beneficiaries but also our fellow citizens through the Federal Emergency Management Administration mission," said Adirim.

Adirim explained that recent changes within the DOD included, a review of all COVID-19-related policies and updated Force Health Protection measures based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance. She cited the incorporation of quarantine and testing guidance for vaccinated individuals as just one example. She also said DOD policies and guidance will continue to evolve in collaboration with the CDC.

"We will continue to update our guidance to ensure our DOD personnel are safe and can perform their missions," said Adirim. "In the meantime, we are vaccinating our service members and eligible beneficiaries as fast and as safely as possible."

In alignment with the President's announcement that all Americans will be eligible to be vaccinated in May, she said the DOD intends to open vaccination to all eligible beneficiaries by May 1.

She thanked service members, both those who have been vaccinated thus far, and those who have played an integral part in the vaccination effort.

"They are not only protecting themselves, but they're also contributing to the safety of their teammates, their families and their communities. I'm very proud of all of them," she said. "We've administered more than 1.8 million shots within the DOD, and more than 5 million shots have gone into arms by our military service members in support of the FEMA mission."

Adirim offered a message of hope and motivation to the DOD community: "The light at the end of the tunnel is near - I know you've heard that over and over again - but it's true. Vaccination is one critical part of getting our country back to normal, along with continued testing and adherence to public health measures like masking and social distancing. We just can't let up at this point."

Place delved into some of the specifics of both manning and administering such an effort.

"The Military Health System is administering COVID vaccines at 343 sites around the world," detailed Place. "At the same time, nearly 3,000 military personnel are currently deployed to support FEMA-led efforts at civilian vaccination sites around the United States, with more expected soon."

Place echoed Adirim's message for military medical personnel.

"A special thanks goes out to our superbly trained enlisted medical forces carrying out these responsibilities with compassion and with distinction," said Place. "We're thankful for those who have taken this step, protecting themselves, their teammates, their families and those most vulnerable."

Place explained that the DOD is balancing operational risks with vulnerability to infection. He said that almost all installations are vaccinating those who are deployed or preparing to deploy, those over 75 years old and front-line essential workers.

He noted that the unique demographics of the military, however, put over half of the population in the final tier of the DOD's vaccination priorities.

"It's important to note that about 60% of our military personnel are in that final tier of our vaccination priorities - that is, generally young without underlying health conditions and not currently required in an operational mission," said Place.

This, he noted, is similar to most civilian populations in jurisdictions within the U.S.

Place said that the DOD and DHA's efforts and messaging are fluid and based on input from military medical professionals from around the world.

"I speak with military medical commanders around the world every week and work through the issues they are confronting for vaccinations," said Place. "We exchange best practices and refine our communications efforts based on what our leaders on the front lines share with us."

As a physician, Place noted, he stands firmly behind the FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccines.

"These are safe, effective vaccines and are critical weapons in our fight against COVID-19," said Place. "All Americans who receive their care from the Department of Defense and would like to be vaccinated will have that opportunity over the next few months, whether abroad or here in the United States."

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