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Republican demands answers after canceled troop vaccination reports

Republican demands answers after canceled troop vaccination reports
© Greg Nash

A top Republican congressman is demanding answers on the Pentagon’s COVID-19 vaccination plans after reports of delayed and canceled appointments for U.S. service members and families overseas.

“Our men and women serving their country — especially those who are serving abroad, away from their family and friends and, in many instances unable to come home for almost a year — should be a priority for the Department of Defense,” Rep. Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulHouse lawmakers roll out bill to invest 0 million in state and local cybersecurity Asian American lawmakers say State's 'assignment restrictions' discriminate Senate Intelligence panel working on legislation around mandatory cyber breach notification MORE (R-Texas), the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote in a letter Thursday to Gen. Gustave Perna, who is overseeing the federal vaccination effort.

“Especially when reports show a significant number of U.S. troops are hesitant to take the vaccine, it’s incredibly disappointing to hear those who desperately want the vaccine are having a hard time receiving it,” McCaul added.

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McCaul’s letter comes after the military’s Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany posted on its Facebook page this week it may have to cancel some vaccination appointments next week because it was not expecting to receive more doses for the “next several weeks.”

“We understand that many of you are frustrated by the COVID-19 vaccination process. Unfortunately, recent shipment delays, lack of vaccines and confusion about the process have contributed to this frustration,” the post said.

A later update to the post added that “our leadership team is working hard to find a way to prevent us from having to cancel second-dose appointments, as previously announced.”

In his letter, McCaul also said his office has “heard reports of troops having their vaccination appointments cancelled at military hospitals within the United States as well.”

McCaul asked for information on how many service members overseas and in the United States have been vaccinated, what the strategy is to vaccinate family members of troops stationed overseas, what places besides Landstuhl are experiencing disruptions in vaccine deliveries and what plans are being put in place to ensure appointments are not canceled going forward.

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U.S. military commanders elsewhere in the world have also expressed concern about their vaccine supplies.

At a House Armed Services Committee hearing this week, Gen. Robert Abrams, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, said his command recently received 9,700 “unforecasted” doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is a single-dose shot, which he said “will go a long way towards being able to give the immunizations to our beneficiaries.”

Still, he expressed concern about being able to vaccinate military family members and retirees under his purview.

“I am concerned about the continued availability,” Abrams said. “We've got a great push right now, but we've got some concerns going forward to ensure that our family members and others have the access to the vaccine commensurate with their stateside counterparts.”

Meanwhile, a February video posted online this week from Air Force Lt. Col. Daniel Hatcher, who commands the 378th Expeditionary Medical Squadron at Prince Sultan Air Base, noted a “concerning rise” in COVID-19 cases in the region and that he expects “more availability of the vaccine” over “the next few months.”

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Asked Wednesday about Hatcher’s video, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said that since the video was made “additional vaccines have been sent to Central Command to help them flesh out their vaccine distribution program.”

Originally, Kirby said, deployed troops were not in the first tier of vaccinations out of concern they would get side effects from the second dose, but they have been put back into the priority group.

Serious side effects from the vaccines are rare, but some people may experience flu-like symptoms for a few days after being vaccinated, particularly after the second dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The vaccines have proven themselves very safe and effective so there's an increasing demand and we're meeting that demand — we're trying to meet that demand,” Kirby said. “But we're certainly mindful of the need to continue to get them to forward-deployed forces, and you'll see that change.”