Defense Department officials have said the department will be ready to offer COVID-19 vaccinations to all eligible beneficiaries by May 1, in keeping with a White House announcement that on that date, all Americans will be able to get vaccinated if they want to.
"We are committed to contributing to the president achieving his goal of 200 million shots in 100 days," said Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Dr. Terry Adirim during a briefing today at the Pentagon.
Army Lt. Gen. Ronald J. Place, director of the Defense Health Agency said that depending on the rate at which the DOD can get vaccines, and the uptake rate — that's the number of personnel who step forward to get vaccinated — it's possible that by early summer, every person in the DOD could be vaccinated.
"Based on the projections that we have, both supply side and vaccination side, we do fully expect to be open to all ... of our DOD eligible populations on or before the first of May," Place said. "At current uptake rates for those who want to get it, we think by the middle of July or so ... the department will be vaccinated."
Place said right now that the military health system is administering COVID vaccine at 343 sites around the world. Also, he said, there are almost 3,000 military personnel providing vaccination support to FEMA-led community vaccination sites around the country.
"A special thanks goes out to our superbly trained enlisted medical forces carrying out these responsibilities with compassion and with distinction," he said.
Within the department, Place said, more than 600,000 service members from all three components have gotten at least their first COVID-19 vaccine.
"I want to use this opportunity to thank every service member who has gotten vaccinated," said Adirim. "They are not only protecting themselves but they're also contributing to the safety of their teammates, their families and their communities."
Right now, there are three COVID-19 vaccines available. Those include vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, both of which have cold-storage requirements, and both of which require two injections. The Johnson and Johnson vaccine requires only a single shot, and has no cold-storage requirement.
All three vaccines are effective, Place said, but the single-shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine has been beneficial for use in austere environments.
"Every single one of these vaccines are shown through rigorous clinical trials to be safe and effective," he said. "The ... unique advantages to this third vaccine is first it doesn't require that cold chain requirement and second only requires one dose, all of which make its efficacy ... the actual effectiveness at the operational force to be greater. So we think this is a better vaccine for the circumstances in those austere environments."
Adirim said she hopes that more service members will step forward to take whatever COVID-19 vaccine is eventually offered to them because doing so is the key to getting the nation back on track.
"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," Adirim said. "We just can't let up at this point. Our DOD personnel have done a phenomenal job. I'm very proud of all of them. We've administered more than 1.8 million shots within DOD and more than 5 million shots have gone into arms by military service members in support of the FEMA mission."