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Pentagon to get 44,000 initial doses of COVID-19 vaccine

Pentagon to get 44,000 initial doses of COVID-19 vaccine
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The Pentagon will get “just under 44,000” initial doses of a coronavirus vaccine, with health care providers and support personnel to be among the first to receive it, Defense Department (DOD) officials said Wednesday.

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Thomas McCaffery said the Pfizer vaccine would come “as early as next week for immediate use.”

In the first phase of the rollout, which the Pentagon has dubbed a “controlled pilot,” health care providers and support personnel, residents and staff of DOD long-term care facilities, other essential workers and high-risk beneficiaries will receive the vaccine, a schedule which is based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance.

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The department has already targeted 13 military installations within the United States and three additional in Germany, Korea and Japan to preposition the first round of vaccines, to go out in batches of 975 doses.

The Pentagon will use this method, adding in personnel and locations as it goes, until 60 percent, roughly 11 million, DOD personnel receive the vaccine. At that point, supply should be enough to distribute doses much as the department rolls out its annual flu vaccine, McCaffery said.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet approved a coronavirus vaccine but its Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee is set to meet Thursday to discuss approving Pfizer’s candidate under an emergency use authorization.

McCaffery said as soon as the FDA issues an emergency use authorization (EUA), the Pentagon’s allocated vaccines will be sent to its 16 initial locations.

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) will then meet, review the EUA and vote to recommend the vaccine.

“We expect to have shots in arms of DOD personnel within 24 to 48 hours from the time the ACIP issues its final recommendation,” he said.

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Defense Health Agency Director Lt. Gen. Ronald Place, who spoke alongside McCaffery, said the vaccine is “voluntary for everyone,” as it will have only received emergency use authorization, but the department is “strongly encouraging everyone to take it.” 

Senior leadership, including acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark MilleyMark MilleyFemale generals' promotions held back over fears of Trump's response: report Biden emphasizes diversity in first visit to Pentagon Pentagon: Extremist groups recruit from military MORE, will also take the vaccine to show confidence in its safety.

Place also noted that locations for the initial round of vaccines were chosen for their “extra cold storage capability, sizable local populations to vaccinate and medical staff large enough to administer it.”

Canada, the United Kingdom and Bahrain have already authorized the use of Pfizer’s vaccine, developed with German firm BioNTech. Clinical trials have shown their version is 95 percent effective, which is an extremely high level of efficacy. 

The Trump administration has a contract in place with Pfizer for 100 million doses of the vaccine, enough to vaccinate only 50 million people, as patients must be given two doses for full effectiveness.

It was revealed this week that the administration declined multiple times to purchase additional doses of the vaccine, creating fears that there could be a delay of an ambitious schedule to vaccinate Americans.

The administration has argued that other companies will have effective inoculations in addition to Pfizer, including one with similar efficacy from Moderna.