US opens COVID-19 vaccination site for Afghan arrivals

US opens COVID-19 vaccination site for Afghan arrivals
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The U.S. has opened a mass COVID-19 vaccination site near the Dulles airport in Northern Virginia for Afghans fleeing the Taliban, the White House said Friday.

The site is operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, with the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine being administered by the Department of Health and Human Services. 

A White House official said the vaccination clinic is set up at the Dulles Expo Center, which is where all arrivals from Afghanistan are screened.

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Under rules from U.S. Customs and Immigration, all "humanitarian parolees" are required to get vaccinated against COVID-19 if they do not have proof of prior vaccination. 

Evacuees are tested upon arrival and quarantined if they are positive, according to the White House. State Department translators are available to answer questions.

"This operation has been stood up in real time to ensure we are not wasting one minute, and making sure everyone arriving in the United States is able to enter the country safely and not spread COVID-19," a White House official said. "As more arrivals from Afghanistan come, we hope to model this, including in Philadelphia, which is on track to vaccinate passengers in the next few days once flights begin to arrive."

Only about 5 percent of Afghanistan's population has been vaccinated against COVID-19, and global health advocates are concerned about the impact the Taliban takeover will have on the country's health system.

Since the Taliban seized power on Aug. 15, coronavirus testing and vaccinations have plummeted, according to the World Health Organization’s representative in Afghanistan. 

Test rates last week declined by 77 percent in both public and private laboratories, and vaccinations fell 80 percent, according to UNICEF.