WASHINGTON -- The Army is on target to vaccinate 80% of its Soldiers by the Fourth of July as vaccine doses become more readily available, said its surgeon general Monday.
The lofty goal toward 80% is part of a “full-court press” to vaccinate Soldiers, said Lt. Gen. R. Scott Dingle, who is also the commanding general of U.S. Army Medical Command, during a webinar hosted by the Association of the U.S. Army.
“One thing that is going to allow us to meet that goal is that the distribution of the vaccine has increased,” Dingle said. “Initially, it was a supply and demand issue. Now that the federal vaccine movement is producing and distributing more [vaccines], our numbers are constantly going up.”
Before the surge of available shots, the Army didn’t have enough to inject the number of people who needed one, he said.
The increase in vaccinations goes beyond divvying up doses. The surgeon general added that undecided Soldiers have become more confident in vaccine safety, thanks to leaders relaying science-backed information.
Command Sgt. Maj. Diamond D. Hough, the senior enlisted leader of MEDCOM, said that trust has been about more than relaying information, but also listening to Soldiers and answering their questions regarding vaccine safety.
“I’ve engaged with Soldiers and clarified their questions,” he said during the virtual event. “We’ve had good results, and that’s why I think we see an uptick on Soldiers’ vaccines across all components of the Army.”
During those conversations, Hough said he understood why vaccine safety was a concern. Whether it be their family histories or misinformation shared online, it can be a challenge for Soldiers to get accurate information, he said.
“When our Soldiers know better, they do better,” Hough said. “When we give them facts, they do better. When we tell them where to go look to find the information, they do better.”
Besides Soldiers, next week all beneficiaries over the age of 16 will be able to be vaccinated at all 73 Army medical treatment facilities administering the vaccination, as the Defense Department plans to widen its dose availability.
The shot still isn’t mandatory under its current emergency use status, but that could change by the end of the year.
“We are anticipating that hopefully by the end of this calendar year, that it will have [Food and Drug Administration] full approval so that the Department of Defense can direct it,” Dingle said.
To date, the Army has administered nearly 700,000 doses and roughly 67% of those recipients have been fully vaccinated, said Maj. Gen. Jill Faris, interim deputy chief of staff for operations at MEDCOM, during a press conference last week. Those numbers include people from previous tiers in the schema who have reconsidered not getting vaccinated.
For more than a year, Army Medicine has answered the call against COVID-19. “We went from force health protection, reacting to this thing called COVID-19, to deploying united to locations as required,” Dingle said.
“The call for the Army’s help continued to come, and the Army [has] responded,” he added. “Not just with leadership, [but also] the research and development, testing capability, planning efforts at Health and Human Services and the Department of Defense.”
The Army isn’t just administering COVID-19 vaccines, it is also developing one of its own. Last week, scientists from the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring, Maryland, started human testing on a vaccine that may protect against new coronaviruses.
Amid all this, Army Medicine Soldiers still continued to train even as the pandemic took up much of their time. They have to be prepared to “deploy today, fight tonight,” Dingle said.
“[The Army] remains one of the most resilient companies, organizations, and enterprises in America,” Dingle said. “COVID is an enemy that is almost designed for Army Medicine to be in the lead and deal with, and our Soldiers are happy to do our part in defeating this enemy.”
Over the past year, thousands of Soldiers have done their part in the fight against COVID-19.
“To be honest, our Soldiers feel privileged and honored to be able to support our nation,” Dingle said.
“Wherever called upon, Army Medicine has to be there,” he added. “When a war starts, the first cry that happens on the battlefield when someone is injured is ‘medic.’ Army Medicine is there to conserve the fighting strength.”